February 04, 2021 11:05
The number of defectors from North Korea has dropped significantly as all their travel routes through Asia are blocked due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Unification Ministry here is minded to close the Hanawon halfway house that usually helps North Koreans adapt to life in South Korea.
Only three defectors are staying at the men's branch of Hanawon in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, but it has more than 30 administrators and staff from the ministry. For part of last year there were no defectors at all at the branch, which opened with a capacity of 500 in December 2012.
The situation is similar in the women's branch in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, which currently houses only 17 defectors but a staff of over 80.
The annual number of defectors peaked at 2,914 in 2009 but plummeted to 1,047 in 2019. Last year only 229 defectors arrived here as the pandemic sealed escape routes from the repressive country.
The ministry wants to turn the Hwacheon branch over to some other use for the time being. "There are suggestions to use it either for training of government workers or to treat coronavirus patients, but there's a limit to the uses it can be put to because it's a high-security facility," a ministry official said.
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