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North Korean defections to South down in 2021 amid pandemic

North Korean defections to South down in 2021 amid pandemic
The number of North Korean nationals seeking entry into the South has dropped from 2020 to 2021, South Korean authorities said Wednesday. File Photo by Stephen Shaver | License Photo

June 30 (UPI) -- Fewer North Korean defectors arrived in the South in the first half of 2021 than in the same period last year, possibly due to COVID-19 and North Korea's decision to close its border, according to South Korean press reports.

Seoul's office for North Korean refugee resettlement support, also known as Hanawon, said Wednesday that 57 North Koreans entered the South, a fraction of the 380 North Koreans who came in the first half of 2020, News 1 reported.

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Arrivals began to drop in the second half of 2020, when the number of defectors also was 57, Hanawon said. Last year, 437 people entered the South, representing only 37% of the 1,167 North Korean nationals who came in 2019.

Women comprise the majority of North Korean refugees, but trends could be changing. Of the 57 people who arrived this year, 18 men and 15 women, have been approved for resettlement.

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Defectors are directed to Hanawon facilities and undergo interrogation before being approved for resettlement. The process takes one to two months.

An official with the South's unification ministry said the movement of North Koreans is being restricted because of Pyongyang's policy amid the pandemic, Yonhap reported Wednesday.

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"This trend is expected to continue for a considerable period of time," the official said.

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The ministry also said that 27 defectors are at Hanawon headquarters in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, undergoing resettlement education. The group includes 11 women, a child of unknown gender, and 15 men, according to Yonhap.

North Korean defectors have said they face obstacles finding employment in the South. Job-skills mismatches and discrimination are cited frequently as problems.

A ministry source said Wednesday that Hanawon's education program is being developed to make defectors more employable. Resettled North Koreans will have an opportunity to earn skill certificates, including as for barista, the source said, according to News 1.

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The total number of defectors resettled in the South through 2020 is 33,752, according to Seoul.

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