The number of North Koreans entering South Korea has dropped to its lowest level in many years, with the 2012 total unlikely even to reach 50% of the 2011 figure.
A government official met with reporters today to explain the background to the sharp drop, declaring, "Surveillance of defectors has been stepped up a lot, and the authorities have really cracked down on the major routes used as defection paths across the river to China."
“That’s not all; overall monitoring and control of defectors in North Korea has been strengthened, and the same is true in China, notably in the three northeastern provinces," he added.
Just 1,202 defectors have entered South Korea this year to date,, the official revealed. As such, the Ministry of Unification estimates that the total for 2012 will be just 1,400, only half of last year's 2,706. It will certainly be the first time since 2006 that the number of defectors has not reached 2,000.
Kim Jong Eun recently paid a visit to the headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA) and called for more effort to hunt down “hostile forces,” along with ordering a harsh approach to public security. According to Daily NK sources, the North even recently sent a 50-strong team of NSA agents into the three northeastern provinces of China to track not just defectors, but also persons merely overstaying their transit permits.
The authorities have also recently held multiple press conferences in Pyongyang for so-called “re-defectors," parading before the press people including a grandmother, Park In Sook, and a couple who had been living in Daegu. Experts see the move as an attempt to deter defection at source by getting the re-defectors to emphasize the unjust and unfriendly nature of South Korean life.
However, in Park’s case, the South Korean government believes that she was actually frightened into returning by the North Korean authorities, who threatened her family in the North with domestic exile. Meanwhile, in the case of the couple, 27-year old Kim Kwang Hyok and his 29-year old wife Ko Jong Nam, there is evidence of an NSA policy of actively trying to draw defectors back, especially those making regular contact with others in the North as Kim had been doing.
The fact that the authorities are trying to limit defection in this way provides strong circumstantial evidence for the idea that defection is seen as a serious threat to regime stability in the long term, since defectors provide one of the most efficient pathways for outside information to enter, and exit, the country.