October 9, 2012

North Korean Soldier Defects: A Growing Trend

I had been working on a lighthearted piece for my next article, but with current events rearing their head I felt I should address this issue instead.

The news came out that a North Korean Army Sergeant, on guard duty at the DMZ (demilitarized zone), also known as the border between North and South Korea, has defected. He was only able to defect and cross the DMZ because he killed his superior officers and the members of his platoon. Then he proceeded to make his move to the South Korean border and defect.

This is surprising and sad in many ways. First there is the sad part where he murdered his superior officers and the members of his platoon. If he did not make it to the South Korean border he would have most definitely been executed.

The other surprising thing is that he crossed the DMZ. The DMZ is considered the most heavily fortified border in the world, with high fences and land mines across the border. There are an estimated one million land mines across the area between the two Koreas.  The last time a North Korean soldier defected over land was March 2010

The estimate for people who defect from North Korea, is roughly 2,000 people a year. Most of these people go north, cross into China, and then defect by getting to the South Korean embassy in Beijing. From there, they can get paperwork and be escorted into South Korea. Even though these people go north into China, it is still extremely dangerous. The possibility of being caught by North Korean soldiers or Chinese police is a huge risk they take. Also, many swim across a river, where the risk of drowning is a very real possibility. Trying to defect puts their life on the line, but the reward at the end of such a dangerous journey is truly worth the risk.

As North Korea deteriorates and decays from the inside, I believe, we will start to hear more stories similar to this. Part of it is due to the fact that the amount of defectors is increasing every year. According to CNN, during the 90’s less than 100 refugees a year made the journey but since then that number has steadily increased to more than 2,000 people per year. According to the Ministry of Unification in Seoul, more than 24,000 people have defected from the North since the country’s division.

There is a famine in North Korea again and a large shortage of food for the people. The next couple of years may see a lot of North Korean refugees just trying to find enough food to eat.

If the treatment of the average North Korean civilian does not change, we will definitely see an influx of North Korean refugees. I have read accounts of people defecting, and many of these stories are extremely sad. I read one story in particular that I had to try my hardest to hold back my tears. A woman’s husband was allegedly beaten to death. Then three of her five children died from malnutrition related causes. The pain she must have felt losing so many people she loved had to be unbearable.

One of my friends actually has a student who was born in North Korea and his family defected 10 months ago. I have heard of another teacher in the area that also has a North Korean student. I truly believe we are going to see more and more of this over the next couple of years.

Image Credit: Giordano Aita / Shutterstock

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