AFP-JijiSEOUL (AFP-Jiji) — Fewer than 100 North Koreans a month defected to the South last year, Seoul said Friday, the lowest for 15 years as Pyongyang and Beijing both tighten controls on movement. A total of 1,127 North Koreans came to the South last year, down 21 percent from 2016, according to data from the unification ministry. It was the lowest figure since 2001.
The vast majority of defectors from the impoverished North, which suffers chronic food shortages and is subject to U.N. Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, go first to China. They sometimes stay there for several years before making their way to the South, often via a third country.
Defections across the heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean Peninsula are very rare, but this year there have been four, including a dramatic dash under a hail of bullets by a soldier from the North in November.
Another soldier escaped to the South across the DMZ in December but observers said there was no evidence of a trend.