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Number of NK defectors up 22 pct on-year in H1

2016/07/07 13:53

SEOUL, July 7 (Yonhap) -- The number of North Korean defectors grew 22 percent in the first half from a year earlier, government data showed Thursday, as more people are seeking to flee North Korea amid their leader's iron-fist rule.

The number of North Koreans who escaped the North and arrived in South Korea reached 749 in the January-June period, compared with 614 the previous year, according to the data by the Ministry of Unification.

As of end-June, the total number of North Korean defectors reached 29,543, it showed, amid the growing possibility that the tally could surpass the 30,000 mark this year.

The number of defectors reaching the South peaked in 2009, but the pace of growth has slowed down since 2011 as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has strengthened border control and surveillance over the country's people.

Last year, the number of such people came to 1,276, down from 1,397 tallied in the previous year.

North Korean defectors face harsh punishment and even execution after being repatriated from China, which does not recognize them as asylum seekers, according to human rights activists.

In April, a group of 13 North Koreans who worked at an overseas restaurant in the Chinese eastern port city of Ningbo defected to South Korean en masse. In June, more three North Korean restaurant staff working in China escaped to Seoul.