+ A

Report shows 28 defectors went back to North

Number could be much higher but gov’t won’t release data
Oct 01,2019
Of the over 30,000 North Koreans who have defected to South Korea, 28 returned to the North between 2012 and 2018, according to Seoul’s Ministry of Unification.

A report submitted by the ministry to Rep. Yoo Ki-june of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) for this month’s parliamentary audit showed that both 2012 and 2013 each saw seven defectors return to North Korea, followed by six more in the following two years. From 2016 to 2017, a total of eight defectors returned, all of whom were verified by reports in North Korean state media including the Korean Central News Agency or the Rodong Sinmun.

The most prominent of these returnees was a woman named Lim Ji-hyun, who made frequent appearances on a South Korean television show about defectors before inexplicably returning to the North in 2017. She later appeared on North Korean state media under the name Chon Hye-song as part of a propaganda piece designed to criticize South Korean society.

Rep. Yoo also requested the ministry release its data on the number of defectors whose whereabouts are unknown out of the 33,022 the government has registered on its records as of last June, but the ministry has not provided the relevant information.

In response to this, a government official said that it was realistically difficult to gather precise statistics on these numbers because once North Korean defectors complete a mandatory reeducation process upon entering South Korea, their supervision is transferred to the police and local government organizations. Defectors are usually given a resettlement education at the Settlement Support Center for North Korean Refugees, more commonly known as Hanawon, for around 12 weeks.

This suggests there may be others that are unaccounted for by the Unification Ministry’s data who have also returned to the North.

“To prevent North Korean escapees from returning to the North, it is important that we provide them with the means to securely settle themselves in our society,” said a ministry official. “We are continuing to work on easing the resettlement process for escapees.”

Yoo, however, said the lack of precise data - and the Unification Ministry’s reliance on official North Korean state media sources for information - demonstrated faults with the government’s resettlement policies, adding that the actual number of returnees could be much higher than the number shown by the data.

Calling for an investigation to uncover the whereabouts of all defectors resettled in South Korea, Yoo brought up the possibility that some who have repatriated may have had difficulty adjusting or may have returned to bring even more family members to the South but failed to escape a second time.

“In light of the [recent case of] the defector mother and child who died isolated from society, there is a need for policies to secure the lives of defectors living [in South Korea],” Yoo added.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]