The Foreign Ministry reaffirmed Tuesday that it will continue to exert due efforts to bring North Korean defectors who wish to flee to the South from overseas, fending off criticism that Seoul is taking a passive approach toward them.
“We have a principle of bringing all North Korean defectors if they wish to come to South Korea on their own free will,” a ministry official said.
He dismissed recent news reports that the government has changed its guidelines on protecting defectors from the North.
“Even if defectors are willing to flee to a third country, not South Korea, we provide any assistance we can, respecting their free will,” he said.
On Monday, civic group Justice for North Korea said that seven North Korean defectors, including a 9-year-old girl, are facing repatriation to their homeland from China.
The group called for the Seoul government to help prevent the return of the defectors who were recently arrested by the Chinese authorities.
The girl’s mother, who lives in South Korea, reported their arrests to the South Korean consulate in Shenyang, China, on Sunday.
In response to the request, the Foreign Ministry said Monday that it has been taking “necessary steps” regarding the defectors.
“We are putting utmost efforts to safely escort everyone who risks their life (to defect),” the official said.
Some 32,000 North Korean defectors have made it to South Korea since 1998, and every year about a thousand more arrive.
The number has come to less than 1,500 per year since 2012, compared to over 3,000 before 2010.
By Park Han-na (email@example.com