Daily NK sources reported on Jan. 7 that 18 North Koreans were arrested and are currently under investigation for attempting to defect across the border into China on New Year’s Day. 

The would-be defectors ostensibly believed that security at the border would be more lax than usual on New Year’s Day, Daily NK sources reported. 

Ten people managed to cross over into China while eight were immediately captured by North Korean border guards. Even those who crossed into China ended up being arrested and sent back to North Korea by Chinese authorities cooperating with North Korean security officials.

Most of those who tried to defect were either related to each other or were friends, sources said.

The defection case was immediately reported to the central government because of the sheer number of people involved in the defection, sources told Daily NK. 

The Ministry of People’s Security (MPS), North Korea’s law enforcement agency, has even sent an investigation team from Pyongyang to interrogate the North Koreans involved, sources said. 

“The decision to deploy investigators from the MPS suggests that the authorities plan to treat their defection attempt as politically motivated and charge them with betraying their country,” one source told Daily NK. “Authorities are treating the case in a very serious manner because of the impact such mass defection attempts can have on public opinion.” 

In addition, sources reported that North Korean security officials in Ryanggang Province are investigating the circumstances behind the mass defection attempt in cooperation with Chinese authorities. 

North Korean investigators are also probing the possibility that the attempted defectors were aided by border patrol units or security officials.

North Korea has recently made an attempt to beef up security on the border during the period surrounding the new year. For example, North Korea’s main security agency, the Ministry of State Security (MSS), reportedly sent special patrol units to the border region recently. 

Daily NK sources speculated that North Koreans living in the border region will face even more restrictions on their movement and activities in the aftermath of the incident.

*Translated by Gabriela Bernal

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.