In what has become an annual ritual, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification announced in January the number of North Koreans who escaped to the South during the previous year. The total for 2011 was 2,737, the ministry reported. That was up a bit from 2010, and slightly down from 2009, when the tally hit a record 2,927. Under South Korea’s constitution, any North Korean who flees is guaranteed a home in the South.
It is a crime to leave North Korea without permission, punishable by imprisonment or even death, and until recently only a tiny number of North Koreans dared to try. In the four decades from 1953, when the armistice suspending the Korean War was signed, until 1993, a mere 641 North Koreans made it safely to the South.
About the Author
Melanie Kirkpatrick, a former deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. Her book on North Koreans who escape and the people who help them will be published in September.