North Koreans at Pyongyang station (Reuters-Yonhap)
A total of 12 North Korean refugees arrived here between April and June this year, the lowest figure since 2003 when Seoul’s Unification Ministry started compiling the data, it said Wednesday.
The figure is down 96 percent from the same period last year, when 320 defectors came here.
The downward trend was a continuation from the previous quarter -- from January to March -- when 135 North Koreans arrived here, compared to 229 in the same period last year.
The dramatic reduction was largely attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, which seemed to have shut down escapees’ routes.
“Upon crossing the land border between Pyongyang and Beijing, defectors head south to either Laos or Thailand before getting here,” said an analyst at the ministry’s think tank Korea Institute for National Unification, noting the pandemic had tangled up the routes.
The ministry forecast that around 350 defectors would arrive here this year, roughly 70 percent fewer than last year.
By Choi Si-young (email@example.com