The number of North Korean defectors who left the reclusive state this year reached 749, marking a 22 percent increase on-year, the Unification Ministry said Thursday.
This is the first significant rise in the number of the defectors since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took helm at the end of 2011, the ministry added. The number had declined in recent years, from 2,706 in 2011 to 1,502 in 2012, 1,514 in 2013, 1,397 in 2014 and 1,276 last year.
The ministry said at the current rate, the number of the defectors is expected to reach 1,500 by the end of this year.
The South Korean government has said that the recent rise in the number of defectors is attributable to the strong sanctions slapped on the reclusive regime upon its fourth nuclear and long-range missile tests earlier this year.
They pointed to the increasing defections by North Korean workers sent overseas. A total of 13 workers from a North Korean restaurant in China entered the South on April 7, and another group of three North Korean restaurant workers in China defected and arrived in Seoul last month.
The ministry added that the total number of North Korean defectors settled in the South was on track to exceed 30,000 by October. The number currently stands at 29,543 as of the end of June.