Rate of double-defectors to the North on the rise

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Rate of double-defectors to the North on the rise

Some North Korean defectors who once risked their lives to escape have reportedly headed back to the North, according to various sources.

On Sunday, Park Sun-young, a former lawmaker of the Liberty Forward Party and an activist for North Korean human rights, said that three North Korean women who had defected to the South and had lived on Jeju Island went back to the North in May.

“Based on the data I have, the three defected to the South less than five years ago and are in their late 20s, mid 30s and early 40s,” Park said. “They were persuaded by the North Korean regime, which said it will not punish them for leaving their country and will also provide them with a new house and a job in Pyongyang.”

Park estimated that this year around 100 North Korean defectors living on Jeju crossed the border via China to return to the North.

The Ministry of Unification, however, denied the estimation as “groundless.”

“There are around 150 North Korean defectors living on Jeju,” said an official from the ministry. “And most of their whereabouts have been confirmed.”

The ministry official also added that “though it is hard to find out exactly how many North Korean defectors in the South have gone back to the North because they often cross the border without leaving official records via unofficial routes, we’re aware of only a few of them who have chosen to return.”

Lee Yun-keol, a North Korean defector who chairs the North Korea Strategic Information Service Center, said the number reaching 100 is “based on no evidence.”

He noted that many North Korean defectors leave South Korea to go to other countries like Canada for personal reasons. Experts on North Korean studies note that the recent trend may be due to the North’s aggressive appeasement activities under its new leader, Kim Jong-un.

“First, the reason why the number of double-defectors has increased is because of the overall growing number of North Korean defectors to the South,” said Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies. “Other reasons are very complex. One of them would be that the Kim Jong-un regime has been very strict in imposing punishments on those caught escaping the country.”

The North has also been using the media to have its people stay in Pyongyang by having double-defectors hold press conferences and share the “horrifying experiences” that they had in the South.

Jon Yong-chol, who was a North Korean double-defector arrested by the North for allegedly attempting to destroy key statues, said in a televised news conference in Pyongyang that he was “ordered by South Korean and U.S. intelligence to launch the attacks.”

The South Korean government, however, flatly denied such accusations. Pak Jong-suk, another double-defector, also spoke in an unusual press conference broadcast by the North Korean state media in June.

She said she left the North to settle in the South but after struggling to assimilate into society, she decided to go back. She even urged defectors to go back to the North.

“I hope many defectors return to the state security department,” she said. “‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-un hasn’t blamed me for my unforgivable sin at all, and even allowed me to live with my son and daughter-in-law in Pyongyang.”

By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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