Seoul, July 1 (efe-epa).- The number of North Korean defectors to South Korea reached a record low in the second quarter of the year due to the restrictions triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, Seoul’s Unification Ministry reported Wednesday.
Between April and June, only 12 deserters were estimated to have entered South Korea, which is 96 percent down on the same period last year and the lowest quarterly figure since the Seoul government began to record the data in 2003.
“The biggest reason behind the decline is that the national borders of these countries were closed after the outbreak of the coronavirus and cross-border movement became difficult,” ministry spokesperson Yoh Sang-key said at a press conference, according to Yonhap news agency,
Unable to access South Korea by land due to the demilitarized zone that divides the two countries, most deserters cross into China and from there try to reach a third country in which they can request asylum through embassies and South Korean consulates – something that Beijing does not allow in China.
China, which wants to avoid mass migrations of North Koreans, does not consider them refugees or asylum seekers but as “economic migrants,” so it forcibly returns them if it finds them in its territory.
Once back, the North Korean authorities, which do not allow their citizens to freely leave the country, imprison the deserters and in many cases torture and/or execute them, according to various human rights reports.
Altogether, more than 33,000 North Koreans have defected to the South and now hold South Korean citizenship.
In the first quarter of the year, 135 deserters arrived in South Korea, which was 41 percent down year-on-year.
The annual number of deserters to the South reached a record in 2010 when about 2,400 arrived.
However, since Kim Jong-un came to power, the North Korean regime has tightened border controls, so the number has been falling progressively. In 2019 only 1,047 defectors managed to arrive.
Just this week, the Daily NK news website with extensive contacts within North Korea, reported that the regime recently acquired more sophisticated Chinese video surveillance equipment to install at the borders. EFE-EPA