Do Many South Koreans Defect to North Korea?

There have been fewer than five known defectors from South Korea to North Korea since the Korean War. In contrast, there have been about 27,000 North Korean defectors to South Korea. This is in addition to the estimated hundreds of thousands of North Koreans who defect and flee to China or Russia.

The Korean War ended in 1953 resulting in Korea being divided into North and South. The border between the two countries is considered the most heavily militarized in the world. Consequently, most North Koreans will attempt escape through the border with China.

North Korea is a totalitarian state, infamous for human rights abuses, and is currently suffering from a food crisis resulting from a famine in the 1990s.

More about North Korea:

  • Amnesty International estimates about 100,000 people, including children, are detained in North Korean prison camps.
  • The GDP in North Korea is about $620 per capita. In South Korea, the GDP is close to $29,000 per capita.
  • Kim Jong-il, the Supreme Leader of North Korea until his death in 2011, was estimated to spend the equivalent of 1.2 million US each year on cognac.

Frequently Asked Questions

How common is it for South Koreans to defect to North Korea?

Defections from South Korea to North Korea are extremely rare. While there are occasional reports of South Koreans defecting, these cases are not common and are highly publicized due to their unusual nature. The vast majority of defections occur in the opposite direction, with North Koreans seeking asylum in South Korea. According to the Ministry of Unification in South Korea, over 33,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the end of the Korean War.

What are the reasons behind South Koreans defecting to North Korea?

On the rare occasions when South Koreans defect to North Korea, the reasons can vary. Some may be ideologically motivated, seeking what they believe to be a better political system, while others might defect for personal reasons, such as reuniting with family members or due to personal or financial troubles in the South. However, such cases are outliers and do not reflect the general sentiment of South Koreans towards the North.

What is the process for a South Korean to defect to North Korea?

The process for a South Korean to defect to North Korea is not officially documented or encouraged by either government. Typically, such a defection would involve crossing the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which is illegal and extremely dangerous due to landmines and armed guards. Alternatively, some may travel to a third country before going to North Korea, but this is also fraught with legal and personal risks.

What happens to South Koreans who defect to North Korea?

South Koreans who defect to North Korea often face an uncertain future. They may be used for propaganda purposes by the North Korean regime, showcasing them as examples of people choosing the North over the South. However, there is little information on their long-term well-being, and it is possible that they may face restrictions on their freedom, surveillance, and difficulty adapting to the North's society and political system.

Are there any support systems in place for South Koreans considering defection to North Korea?

There are no known support systems in place for South Koreans considering defection to North Korea, as it is a highly discouraged and potentially illegal act. South Korea offers various support systems for North Korean defectors arriving in the South, including resettlement assistance and financial aid, but the reverse is not institutionalized. Those in South Korea facing difficulties are encouraged to seek help within the country's social services system.

Discussion Comments


Isn't it time that there are more efforts to help north Koreans escape this tyrant and his regime? The sooner it collapses economically, the safer the world will be. Sanctions against North Korea should be ramped up until the people have had enough of this tyrant.

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