More than 100 North Koreans who fled to South Korea have returned home this year amid Pyongyang’s efforts to lure them back for propaganda campaigns against Seoul, a report said on Monday.
Since the end of the 1950-53 war, about 23,500 North Koreans have arrived in the South, mostly via China, after fleeing hunger or repression in their homeland.
But the North has recently launched a campaign to lure them back with the promise of a comfortable life and no punishment, Dong-a Ilbo newspaper said.
It cited Park Sun-young, a former conservative lawmaker and a longtime advocate for the refugees.
“Even a woman who defected in 1994 and married a South Korean has returned home,” Park was quoted as saying.
More than 100 went back to their former homeland this year, Dong-a quoted Park as saying, adding that some returnees were offered homes and new jobs in the showpiece capital Pyongyang.
Park was unavailable for comment.
The South’s unification ministry, which handles cross-border affairs, said the number of such returnees was “very small” and fewer than 100, but did not elaborate.
The issue came to prominence last week when a returnee claimed that Seoul agents had promised him handsome rewards if he went back to his homeland and blew up a statue of late leader Kim Il-sung.
Jon Yong-chol told a Pyongyang press conference he had been recruited for the mission after settling in the South. Seoul’s intelligence agency denied the allegation.
Last month a former refugee named Pak Jong-suk held a similar press conference in the North after living for six years in the South.
She described her life in the capitalist South as “little short of a miserable slave’s for want of money”.
Pak claimed she was lured by South Korean intelligence agents to defect in 2006. Activists and defectors’ groups in Seoul said the North had threatened to punish her son unless she returned.
Direct travel between the two Koreas is impossible, but refugees can fly to third countries such as China once they have obtained a South Korean passport and go on to Pyongyang.
North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, a Seoul-based group run by defectors, said last week that Pyongyang authorities had recently been contacting the families of escapees.
It said authorities promised “generous forgiveness” if fugitives return.
Families of refugees have been liable for sometimes harsh punishment in the past, even if they were unaware of their kin’s escape plan.
Refugees receive Seoul government financial aid and resettlement advice but often struggle to hold down jobs in the South. Some complain of discrimination.
“It is harder than dying to get a job in South Korea. People like me always … live in fear and anxiety while just getting by with dirty jobs,” the North’s state news agency quoted Jon as saying.