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North Korean defectors rising in number, Seoul says

By Elizabeth Shim
North Korean defectors rising in number, Seoul says
Chinese public service notices regarding North Korea are posted next to a military outpost on the Yalu River across from North Korea in Dandong, China's largest border city with North Korea. Despite heightened surveillance the number of North Koreans leaving the country for the South has been rising, according to Seoul’s unification ministry. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- The number of North Korean defectors resettling in the South has increased, according to Seoul's unification ministry.

The latest data from the South Korean government indicates 815 North Koreans sought asylum in the South from January to July 2016, up 15.6 percent year-on-year, local newspaper Asia Business reported.

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Defections peaked in 2009 when 2,914 North Koreans entered the country. That number declined to 2,706 in 2011, 1,502 in 2012, 1,514 in 2013, 1,397 in 2014 and 1,276 in 2015.

Human Rights Watch had previously stated North Korea tightened control at the China border since Kim Jong Un fully assumed power in 2012. Walls have been built at the border to make defections more difficult, according to HRW.

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But restrictive measures have not deterred North Koreans from leaving the country for economic reasons.

In April 12 North Korean waitresses and their manager fled a state-operated restaurant in China. In June eight North Korean women working at a factory in Donggang in Liaoning Province fled the site, according to Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun.

A South Korean government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said about 50 percent of North Korean defectors said they left due to economic difficulties, but another 20 percent said they left in search of "better opportunities."

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North Korea has also signaled that it is not interested in engaging in dialogue with the United States after Washington designated Kim Jong Un as a human rights offender.

Voice of America reported Pyongyang has shut down its New York channel of communication.

A North Korean official at the U.N. said there is no longer any official line of communications between the two countries.

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But a U.S. State Department spokeswoman did not confirm the shutdown, according to VOA.

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