Returning defector from North Korea struggled to relocate to the south and lived a meager life


  • Man in his 30s had only been in South Korea for about a year
  • Many North Korean defectors struggle to settle, earn well
  • Unification Ministry to review policies and support defectors

SEOUL, Jan.4 (Reuters) – A former North Korean defector who made a risky and rare cross-border return last week has struggled in South Korea, officials and media said on Tuesday, sparking further debate over the how these defectors are treated in their new lives.

The South Korean military has identified the man who crossed the heavily armed demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas on Saturday as a North Korean who defected south to a similar area just over a decade ago. ‘a year.

The plight of the man shed new light on the lives of the defectors and raised questions as to whether they received adequate support after making the dangerous journey from the impoverished and tightly controlled North to the rich and democratic South.

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The defector was in his 30s and made a poor living working as a janitor, a military official said.

“I would say he was ranked in the lower class, barely making a living,” the official said, declining to elaborate citing privacy concerns.

Officials, who said they saw little risk of the man being a North Korean spy, have launched an investigation into how he escaped guards despite being caught on camera by cameras. surveillance a few hours before crossing the border.

North Korean officials did not comment on the incident, and state media did not report it.


South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that police in Nowon District, north of Seoul, who had provided him with protection and other treatment, expressed concerns in June about his possible re defection, but no action was taken due to a lack of concrete evidence.

Police declined to comment. A Seoul Unification Ministry official responsible for cross-border affairs said on Tuesday that the defector had received government support for personal security, housing, medical care and employment.

The man had little interaction with neighbors and was seen throwing away his belongings one day before crossing the border, Yonhap reported.

“He was taking a mattress and bedding to the dumps that morning, and it was strange because they were all too new,” said a neighbor quoted by Yonhap. “I thought about asking him to give it to us, but in the end I didn’t, because we never said hello.”

By September, around 33,800 North Koreans had resettled in South Korea, embarking on a long and risky journey – usually via China – in search of a new life while fleeing poverty and oppression in their country. .

Since 2012, only 30 defectors have been confirmed to have returned to the North, according to the Unification Ministry. But defectors and activists say there could be many more unknown cases among those who have struggled to adjust to life in the South.

About 56% of defectors are classified as low-income, according to ministry data submitted to defector-turned-lawmaker Ji Seong-ho. Almost 25% are in the lowest bracket subject to national basic livelihood subsidies, six times the ratio of the general population.

In a survey released last month by the North Korea Human Rights Database Center and NK Social Research in Seoul, around 18% of 407 defectors surveyed said they were ready to return to the North. , most invoking nostalgia.

“There is a complex array of factors, including the desire to reunite with families in the North and the emotional and economic hardships that come with resettlement,” the Unification Ministry official said, promising to review the policy. and improve support for defectors.

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Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Lincoln Feast.

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