ince 1953, when the Korean war came to an end, 33,800 North Koreans have crossed the border to resettle in the South and escape the communist dictatorship. However, during so many years, only 30 other defectors managed to safely cross the border back, but it is believed that they have been incarcerated for leaving North Korea in the first place. On the 31st of December 2021, a North Korean defector returned to his country of origin after spending a couple of months in South Korea.
The person managed to climb the tall barbed wire fence on the Southside at around 6:40 PM. Despite all the soldiers being in their patrolling positions, the person managed to cross the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). Despite being seen on camera, the person was only noticed at 9:20 PM when the person was stopped in the DMZ.
After the Korean war had ended, the DMZ was created in order to lower any future conflicts due to the borders between the two countries that have been split apart. Most people who want to cross use the Chinese border as the DMZ is quite dangerous, especially if crossing from the Northside. So dangerous that even working around there might get you shot for no reason.
Why had the defector returned?
By 10:40 PM the defector reached the demarcation line within the DMZ, meaning that he had crossed into North Korean soil. At the time, the guards believed he was a North Korea Spy returning back home, but why would a Spy take the risk of crossing a heavily militarized border? The South Korean guards announced the North of his entrance.
After some investigation that the South Korean government had done, they identified the person as a middle-aged man who had been living in Seoul, South Korea for at least a year. A ministry official said that the South Korean military is investigating the possible route that the man had used to cross the border undetected.
According to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, the same man had raised concerns to the Seoul police department in June of 2021 as he was being abused by people for being from North Korea. Another report was done for the same man who apparently tried once before last year to cross the border back home. Based on interviews taken with the neighbors of the man, he rarely interacted with anyone. Ministry officials mentioned that he was barely earning a living and living on benefits.
The man was apparently also receiving government assistance for safety, housing, and medical needs, meaning that he was not treated badly, at least by the government. It may have been more of an issue with the emotional difficulties and struggles of living in a place where you have no family or friends.
Some reporters believe that this may be Kwon Chol-Nam, a defector who left North Korea in 2014 and since 2017, he was crying for help to return back home to North Korea as South Koreans were treating him like dirt. There are plenty of articles done by journalists around the world describing how ill North Koreas are treated in the South for no reason.
“He was taking out a mattress and bedding to garbage dumps on that morning, and it was strange because they were all too new,” a neighbour was quoted by Yonhap as saying. “I thought about asking him to give it to us, but ended up not doing that, because we’ve never said hi to each other.”
It seems that the man was willing to get back home, despite possible death or other consequences. No matter the history behind a nation or its fanatical rules, a home is still a home defined by the environment in which you grew up.
Death or Freedom
As the man is now in the hands of North Korea, it is unknown what happened to him, but it is believed that he will be severely punished for leaving his country the first time. In North Korea, only officials are allowed to leave the country, and the consequence of leaving without permission is a death sentence.
Most of the defectors who had crossed into the South looking for a better life weren’t necessarily receiving it. Around 56% of defectors from the North are identified in the low social class, and based on a poll conducted by Database Centre For North Korean Human Rights and NK Social Research in Seoul, about 20% are willing to return back home.
It is unlikely that North Korea will release any information about the person’s identity or the consequences he suffered due to his escape.