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In August 2016, a North Korean diplomat defected to South Korea, reportedly out of disgust for his country’s government and leader Kim Jong-Un.
It is extremely rare for North Korean citizens, much less high ranking officials, to flee the country, as harsh punishments are imposed on those who are caught trying, as well as their families back home.
Nevertheless, it does happen.
So how does someone defect from North Korea, and what happens to those who do?
Well, a “defector” is someone who flees to an enemy country, which for North Korea, is basically anywhere outside its borders.
Although leaving North Korea without permission is illegal and the country maintains rigid border controls, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have successfully defected since the mid 20th century.
Most escape through the country’s shared border with China.
Under Chinese law, North Korean defectors are considered illegal economic migrants, and must be returned to their home country, regardless of whatever punishments await them.
So, many continue onto a third country, but some stay and hide in China.
An estimated 200,000 North Koreans are believed to be secretly living in China today.
Alternatively, many defectors seek asylum in South Korea.
According to government estimates, roughly 29,000 North Koreans have resettled in the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
For decades, South Korea was very accommodating of these asylum seekers.
In the early 1960s the country provided an allowance, stable employment and housing for defectors.
But through a series of reforms in the 1990s these privileges were curtailed, and in 2004 the South Korean government reduced financial aid for asylum seekers by nearly two-thirds.
North Korea has accused the South of explicitly encouraging their citizens to defect.
However, South Korea has denied such claims.
Perhaps surprisingly, roughly 80 percent of North Korean defectors are women.
A 2013 study found that women tend to suffer the most from poverty and economic hardship, one of the driving forces of emigration.
Male defectors, on the other hand, cited political or ideological reason for their defection.
Given all the reasons to flee North Korea, and all the risks defectors take to escape, it may come as a surprise that some end up voluntarily moving back.
These “double defectors” are known to return for a range of reasons.
Most commonly, feelings of marginalization and a lack of opportunity in their new country.
But returning is risky.
North Korea is known to punish escapees with years of hard labor in prison camps or execution.
However, in 2013, Kim Jong-Un announced that defectors will be welcomed back into the country, and in some cases even offered cash and an opportunity to share their experience on state-run TV.
Ironically, many defectors in South Korea are already semi-celebrities, as they regularly appear on talk shows and reality TV.
In the end, a defector’s fate largely depends on their destination.
Countries that are culturally western, like the United States, Canada, and much of Europe, tend to be more accommodating than others.
But wherever North Korean defectors land, it’s probably better than where they came from.
Many North Koreans defect because of massive food shortages, all while the country's leadership and elite live lavish lifestyles.
Who's really to blame for the country's food shortages? Find out in this video.
By 2013, the country's food aid had dropped almost 20-fold.
The United Nations reported in 2015 that 70% of North Koreans are food insecure.
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What Happens To North Korean Defectors?

23932 Folder Collection
paulff2007 published on October 13, 2016    Darya kao translated    Mandy Lin reviewed
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