Just 67 North Korean defectors arrived last year. Inter-Korean dialogue and exchange have ground to a halt. Seoul's Unification Ministry has a new, hawkish head who wants to change the agency's role.
north korean defectors
Travis King crossed the border into North Korea on Tuesday, becoming the first U.S. service member to do so since 1982. A handful of American soldiers defected in the years after the Korean War.
China usually sends defectors back to North Korea, but Pyongyang wouldn't let them in during the pandemic. That may soon change, and has led to concern among human rights advocates.
A mother and her young son were found dead in July, apparently of starvation. The case has refocused attention on the circumstances of defectors, who often struggle to start new lives in the South.
The group's leader is "less like the leader of a civic group, and more like a soldier on a battlefield, bold and combative," says a defector who has worked with him. "He's a very charismatic leader."
Hyeonseo Lee left North Korea when she was 17. Now 38, she calls the recent meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Moon Jae-in "stunning," and says her greatest hope is reunification.
The escape of what South Korea's news agency describes as a "low-ranking" North Korean soldier is the second such defection in just over a month.
Stationed at the DMZ, the sergeant made a fateful decision in 1965 to cross over to North Korea. He spent the next four decades as a trophy of Pyongyang.
Now in Seoul, North Korean defectors recall life inside one of the world's most secretive regimes, talking of brainwashing, required military service — and the jolt of seeing the outside world.
After defecting, the ex-diplomat told his sons: "You can go to the Internet, you can do Internet games whenever you like, you can read any books, watch any films." In North Korea, this was impossible.