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One-third of imprisoned N.K. defectors in for narcotics

More than a third of imprisoned North Korean defectors here were sentenced for drug trafficking, highlighting a lack of screening and reintegration policies for defectors, according to the Korean Institute of Criminology on Monday.

Professor Jang Joon-oh, director of the International Center for Criminal Justice, said 17 of the 48 defectors incarcerated in the South were charged with trafficking opium and philopon, more commonly known as methamphetamine or speed.

Jang surveyed the defectors and found that drug traffickers spent an average of 42 months fleeing the North, higher than defectors convicted of murder at 17 months, indicating that traffickers usually spend time dealing narcotics in China before arriving in the South.

The traffickers made an average of 700,000 won ($630) a month, turning to the illegal trade because of its relative ease in making money in an unfamiliar capitalist society, although far below the minimum monthly wage set at 900,000 won.

“Drug crimes committed by defectors here are closely related to the narcotics-related offense in North Korea as well,” said the director.

“Since the annual number of North Korean defectors surpassed 1,000 in 2000, incidents of drug trafficking here have increased and become more systematic,”

North Koreans also have minimal understanding of the illegality of narcotics, due to common exposure to drugs.

Opium is commonly found in the North, widely cultivated for basic medicine and exportation.

Also North Korean methamphetamine, known as “ice,” is easily smuggled into China, and can also be widely found in the North.

“Traffickers use families as mules or dealers, connect with drug gangs in China or acquaintances in the North and some were found to have personally gone back into the North to smuggle drugs out of the communist country,” said Jang.

“Since there are drug traffickers that come and go into China a countless number of times, a systematic immigration management plan needs to be implemented for defectors.”

Jang also found that 16 of the criminals had used defector channels to deal narcotics.

According to Jang, defectors are given too little time to assimilate into a country that is completely different from where they spent the majority of their lives. Defectors currently undergo a two month training program at Hana centers before being reintegrated into society.

The director called for a mentoring system to help with the defectors social, everyday needs rather than the current system where government officials are assigned to defectors to help with legal problems.

Of the 48 incarcerated defectors as of last year, 12 were convicted for assault, 10 for murder.

According to government data from 2010, less than half of North Korean refugees aged over 15 were engaged in economic activities six months after settling down in the South in 2009.

The majority of the employed were engaged in menial labor in restaurants, construction sites or machinery assembly factories.

The number of North Korean defectors surpassed 20,000 in November last year.

By Robert Lee (rjmlee@heraldcorp.com)
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