After 2005, the number of defectors who entered South Korea has remarkably decreased. According to the Ministry of Unification, 78 defectors came to South Korea in January, which amounts to half the numbers of last January, 2004. And also, there was not much difference between January and February in the number of defectors coming to South.
It still remains to be seen if the number of defectors will continue to decrease but a more detailed analysis must be made in regards to the factors that went into the decrease.
For the defectors, the matter is a question of survival rather than welfare
According to a South Korean government announcement, a comprehensive policy for North Korean defectors living in South Korea has been formulated, among which the resettlement funds will be reduced and surveillance and control of brokers will be escalated.
Although this change in policy has the predicted effect of encouraging independence in settlement for North Korean defectors, critics maintain that by restricting the actions of brokers, the government is ultimately trying to limit the number of defectors entering the country.
If the underlying motivations behind the government's policy change is to reduce the number of defectors, the policy has succeeded, at least in part. However, the original purpose of the comprehensive policy measures for North Korean defectors was to support them for their successful settlement and reduce their discomfort. The North Korean defectors mentioned here include North Korean defectors inside South Korea and other third countries.
The government's position is that through this policy, they hope to remove the reasons for defectors to defect, through economic aid as a way to raise the standard of living for North Koreans within the country.
The government's motivations in this respect cannot be argued with. However, the government did not provide any measures for defectors who have already defected from North Korea and are residing in China or neighboring countries living in fear of being repatriated.
The South Korean governments policies for North Korean defectors need to be approached separately in regards to those living in South Korea and those living in third countries. The fact of living in South Korea guarantees a basic standard of living through welfare measures for North Korean defectors. Although criticisms regarding this support is made by some, the problem is not a matter of survival for defectors living in South Korea. For those living in third countries, the issue is a matter of absolute survival.
Third country defectors who have no other option but to go to South Korea
Currently, defectors in China and neighboring countries are estimated to be about 50-80,000. It is the state that is far reduced from 100 thousands of that in 1998.
Many of these people who stay in China for an average of three to four years, have no desire to go back to North Korea. They have lost the confidence or capability to live in a suffocating, organized system when they have already experienced the economic wealth and free society in China.
Even if the punishment of defecting would disappear and the economic level become par to China, if there’s no freedom, it will not be easy to entice defectors back. In this way, there’s no choice for third country defectors but to stay in China, go to South Korea or to a third country. Many of them prefer China where they can maintain connections with family in both South and North Korea and it is easy to support family living in North Korea.
But the control and forced repatriation by Chinese authorities is still continuing. Defectors in China who are captured and sent back to North Korea are unfortunate; if they are fortunate, they are able to go to South Korea. Both cases are not ideal. The most ideal situation for them is for them to be able to freely go back to their homeland, North Korea.
Those who follow a rational way of thinking, understand that to repatriate defectors, is to send them to their deaths- yet Chinese security forces continue to do this. In addition, the number of those fortunate defectors who are able to come to South Korea are decreasing. Moreover, there’s no way but to reduce the number of defectors coming to South Korea.
In order to come to South Korea, defectors living in third countries have to gather information, funds, and find guides. After 2000, the reason for the increasing number of defectors who came to South Korea was that defectors could arrange these three factors relatively more easily than before.
To gather information about South Korea is not difficult because the number of defectors who came to South Korea has increased and there is a 'South Korean Wave' in Korean-Chinese society. Also, defectors can solve the financial problem through the remittance from the family who arrived in South Korea before them or through the support from a Chinese husband and so on. In addition, the dream to go to South Korea was coming true for some of those defectors guided by the people called brokers.
The South Korean government is controlling the scale of entries by blocking two of these factors: limiting brokers and by reducing resettlement funds. This has the effect of blocking the money flow to brokers from defectors coming to the South, and to restrain brokers through social pressure, thus, limiting their actions.
Of course, violence and illegal actions commited by brokers have to punished according to law. However it is impossible to label all their actions as immoral. Government allocates a certain amount of money when separated family meet each other or exchange letters and support hundreds of millions of won or when a former prisoner of war is returned. Some of those brokers are taking part in these actions and are allocated a certain amount of this work with the government.
A plan must be made for third country defectors rather than cracking down on brokers
While considering the relationship between South and North Korea, a balance must be made between aiding South Korean welfare recipients and saving the lives of defectors.
The fact that the scope of policy is limited to North-South relations and defectors living in South Korea, rather than considering those in third countries, is problematic. Therefore, regarding this problem, the government must strongly lobby the United Nations and the Chinese government to resolve this issue. The distrust and discontent from civil organizations toward the government is not due to a lack of understanding regarding the situation but rather it is a lack of will in regards to the government to address the problem.
The government has stated their official position is that they will not induce or encourage defecting from North Korea but will accept anyone who comes to South Korea. Now this logic reflects the confidence of the South Korean government in that they are able to control the entries who defect from North Korea, to a certain level. South Korean government has specific measures in carrying out the policy, such as the method and amount of funds going to support resettlement and cracking down on brokers.
As a result of third country defectors trying to enter South Korea, a market is being created with people in China and North Korea who want to enter South Korea and their family in South Korea who wish for them to come and provide the financial backing and through brokers who link them.
Now the South Korean government is intervening in the ‘Market’ of entries of third world defectors. I would like to ask, has their ever been cases of an interverntionist policy of a government that has succeeded? I also would like to ask if this market which is created for the purpose of reuniting family and to save lives, should be disrupted by the government?
Although the South Korean government should restrict the illegal actions of brokers with the correct, legalistic response, rather than putting more energy into controlling those who aid defectors, considering real methods to aid third country defectors is more valuable.