South Korean defectors
After the Korean War, 333 South Korean prisoners of war detained in North Korea chose to stay in the country. During subsequent decades of the Cold War, some people of South Korean origin defected to North Korea as well. They include Roy Chung, a former U.S. Army sergeant who defected to North Korea through East Germany in 1979. North Korea has been accused of abduction in the disappearances of some South Koreans.
Occasionally, North Koreans who have defected to South Korea decided to return. Since South Korea does not permit its naturalized citizens to travel to the North, they have made their way into their home country illegally and thus become "double defectors". From a total of 25,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea about 800 are missing, some of them no doubt returning to the North. During the first half of 2012 there were 200 cases of double defection, though the South Korean Ministry of Unification officially recognizes only 13.
The propaganda value of defectors has been recognized even right after the Division of Korea in 1945. Defectors were used as tools to prove the superiority of the political system of the country of destination.
Aftermath of the Korean War
A total of 357 prisoners of war detained in North Korea after the Korean War chose to stay in North Korea rather than be repatriated home to the South. These included 333 South Koreans, 23 Americans, and one Briton. Eight South Koreans and two of the Americans later changed their mind. However, the exact number of prisoners of war held by North Korea and China has been disputed since 1953, due to unaccounted South Korean soldiers.
During the Cold War, several U.S. Army servicemen defected to North Korea. One of them, Roy Chung, was born to South Korean immigrants. Unlike the others who defected across the DMZ, he defected by first crossing the border between West and East Germany in 1979. His parents accused North Korea of abducting him. The United States was not interested in investigating the case, as he was not a "security risk", and in similar cases it was usually impossible to prove that a kidnapping had occurred. There were several other cases of South Koreans mysteriously disappearing and moving to North Korea at that time, including the case of a geology teacher from Seoul who disappeared in April 1979 while he was having a holiday in Norway. Some South Koreans also accused North Korea of attempting to kidnap them while staying abroad. These alleged kidnapping attempts occurred mainly in Europe, Japan or Hong Kong.
There are people who have defected from North Korea to South Korea, and then have defected back to North Korea again. In the first half of 2012 alone, there were 100 cases of "double defectors" like this. Possible reasons for double defectors are the safety of remaining family members left behind, North Korea's promises of forgiveness and other attempts to lure the defectors back including propaganda, and widespread discrimination faced in South Korea. Both the poor and members of elite are dismayed to find out that they are societally worse off in South Korea than they were in the North. Half of the North Korean defectors living in South Korea are unemployed. In 2013 there were 800 North Korean defectors unaccounted for out of 25,000 people. They might have gone to China or Southeast Asian countries on their way back to North Korea. South Korea's Unification Ministry officially recognizes only 13 cases of double defectors as of 2014.
South Korea's laws do not allow naturalized North Koreans to return. North Korea has accused South Korea of abducting and forcibly interning those who want to and has demanded that they are allowed to leave.
Contemporary South Korean-born defectors
North Korea has targeted its own defectors with propaganda in attempts to lure them back as double defectors, but contemporary South Korean defectors born outside of North Korea were not welcome to defect to the North. In recent years there have been seven people who tried to leave South Korea, but they were detained for illegal entry in North Korea, and ultimately repatriated. In 2009 a wanted man cut a hole in the demilitarized zone fence and defected.. In 2004 a south korean soldier was arrested for violating the National Security Law by secretly crossing into North Korea and providing information about the military unit he served. He is suspected of providing military information to North Korea like the location of the Air Force fighter wing he served and the location of anti-air batteries. One year later a 57-year-old South Korean fisherman crossed the maritime borderline into north korea, south Korean coastal border guards fired some 20 warning shots from a 60 mm mortar, 106 mm recoilless rifle and MG50 machine gun, but were unable to stop the ship crossing the NLL. Acording to the Chosun ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, an unidentified man defected to North Korea in September 1996. in 1998 A South Korean fisherman defected to North Korea. His name was Song Ki-chan, from the Southern city of Inchon. Mr Song sailed his trawler to an unnamed port in the North. In 2017 NK news published an interview with a South Korean living in Pyonyang, According to him, South Korea was a living hell where people couldn’t live. In 2015 a South Korean student was arrested after crossing into North Korea. he was later repatriated to South Korea. In 2018 a South Korean man was detained after trying to enter North Korea from China. He was repatriated to South Korea a few days later. There have been fatalities as a result of failed defections. One defector died in a failed murder-suicide attempt by her husband while in detention. One person who attempted to defect was shot and killed by South Korean military in September 2013.
List of notable defectors
- Choe Deok-sin, a South Korean foreign minister
- Ryu Mi-yong, the chairwoman of Chondoist Chongu Party and wife of Choe
- Kim Bong-han, a North Korean researcher of acupuncture
- Oh Kil-nam, a South Korean economist who later defected back to the South
- Shin Suk-ja, the wife of Oh Kil-nam, who was held together with their daughters as prisoners of conscience
- Ri Sung-gi, a North Korean chemist known both for his invention of vinalon, and possible involvement in nuclear weapons research
- Roy Chung (born Chung Ryeu Sup), the fifth U.S. Army defector to the North
- Li Fung-Ryong a south Korean army officer who defected to the north in 1964
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