A recent report has revealed that North Korean defections to South Korea almost tripled in 2023.
The influx of North Korean defectors to South Korea saw a significant rise in 2023, nearly tripling from the prior two years. Official data from Seoul’s Unification Ministry disclosed that 196 North Korean defectors arrived in South Korea last year, according to Yonhap News.
This total reflected an almost threefold increase compared to the preceding two years (63 defectors in 2021 and 67 in 2022), a period marked by decreased defections due to pandemic-related border closures.
After consistently exceeding 1,000 defectors annually before 2019, the number sharply declined to just 229 in 2020.
Of the defectors, 99 individuals in their 20s and 30s made up more than half, with 164 women and 32 men undertaking the journey.
There was a noticeable uptick in defections by North Korean diplomats, trade officials, and overseas students, with approximately 10 individuals from elite circles defecting—the highest count since 2017.
Factors contributing to the surge in defections include dissatisfaction with the North Korean regime and food shortages.
In 2023, nearly 23% of defectors cited disillusionment with the regime as their primary reason for escape, followed by 21.4% mentioning a food crisis.
The Unification Ministry pointed out that the challenging conditions within North Korea led to the diversification of defection routes.
Many defectors from the past year had left North Korea years ago, navigating through third countries like China, Laos, or Myanmar before reaching South Korea.
China, a staunch ally of North Korea, views defectors as illegal economic migrants and forcibly repatriates them under a border agreement, as reported by CNN.
Activists underscore the severe repercussions defectors face upon return to North Korea, including torture, sexual violence, hard labor, imprisonment, or even execution by the North Korean state.