SEOUL, Sept. 7 (UPI) — The number of North Koreans defecting to South Korea rose 15 percent in the first eight months of 2016 compared with last year, government data showed Wednesday.
From January to August, 894 North Koreans arrived in South Korea compared with 777 the previous year’s eight months, according to data by the Ministry of Unification.
In all, the total number of North Korean defectors reached 29,688 since the country was split into a U.S.-backed South and a Soviet-backed North in 1948.
Defection peaked to 2,914 in 2009 as the previous regime of Kim Jong Il had widespread famine and slowed since 2011 as new leader Kim Jong Un strengthened border control and surveillance over the country’s population.
But it increased this year as North Koreans are escaping his stronger control of the communist country.
Another reason is economic. Nineteen percent who escaped before 2001 said they had above-average income and it increased to 55 percent in 2014.
“Compared with the past, the number of North Korean defectors seeking more opportunities and better lives for themselves in South Korea has increased,” a government official said.
Overseas workers and diplomats are defecting as North Korea is pressuring them to send more money to the North.
In April, 13 North Koreans working at a restaurant in the Chinese eastern city of Ningbo defected to South Korea. In June, three more North Korean restaurant workers in China escaped to Seoul.
Thae Yong Ho, a minister at the North Korean Embassy in Britain, recently defected to the South with his family.
“The costs [North Koreans have to bear] for defections have increased as the Kim Jong Un regime has intensified crackdowns on those who attempt to flee the nation,” Jeong Joon-hee, South Korea’s unification ministry spokesman, told a press briefing.