Uptick in North Korean Defectors: Data

COVID-related quarantine had all but shut down North Koreans' attempt to escape.

Uptick in North Korean Defectors: Data

Photo: Pyongyang subway. Credit: Public domain.

According to a January 18 report by the Ministry of Unification 통일부, 196 North Koreans defected to South Korea in 2023. The number is a significant increase from 2021 (63 defectors) and 2022 (67 defectors), as COVID-related quarantines made escape from North Korea even more difficult than usual.

Before 2020, it was normal for more than 1k North Koreans to defect to South Korea each year, with 1,514 defectors in 2013. More than 34k North Korean defectors live in South Korea today.

Of the 196 North Korean defectors in 2023, 164 were women and 99 were in their 20s or 30s. Most came to South Korea after an extended stay in a third country such as China or Russia. The Unification Ministry expects the number of defectors to increase slowly as North Korea reopens its borders for trade.

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