Group of North Koreans defect, cross border into South Korea

The group crossed the Northern Limit Line in a fishing boat, officials said.

May 18, 2023, 4:50 PM

A group of North Koreans crossed the Northern Limit Line in a fishing boat and South Korea's navy patrol boat located the group, South Korean authorities said Thursday.

The incident took place on May 6 and authorities from the Defense Ministry, National Intelligence, and the Unification Ministry said that the government is interrogating those North Koreans and cannot share any details at the moment.

The number of North Koreans fleeing to the South has dramatically decreased from over 1,000 every year for most of the 2000s to around 100 since the COVID-19 breakout in 2020, data from the Unification Ministry shows.

A South Korean Navy Incheon-class frigate (back) is seen from a ferry traveling to South Korea's eastern island of Ulleungdo in the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, on November 3, 2022.
Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

229 people defected from North Korea to South Korea in 2020, but less than 100 defected from North Korea in 2021 and 2022, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification. Provisionally, 34 people have defected in 2023, according to the Unification Ministry.

The drop in defectors seen during the COVID-19 pandemic and the following years has not been seen since the 1990s, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report.

One of the main factors causing the drop in defectors was the closure of the North Korean border to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, CSIS said in the report. Other efforts, like North Korea’s campaign to publicize how difficult life in South Korea is, also could have contributed to the decline, CSIS said.