In the wake of last week’s mass defection of 13 North Koreans, additional exoduses may come about among North Koreans working overseas as the impact of U.N. resolutions and unilateral sanctions takes shape, top Seoul officials said Sunday.
A male restaurant manager in his 30s and 12 female employees in their early 20s who had served at a North Korean restaurant arrived in Seoul on Thursday, the Unification Ministry announced late Friday. South Korean media reported that the restaurant is located in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo. and they travelled via a Southeast Asian nation.
Contrary to earlier news reports, the 13 were “a sizable portion” of the restaurant’s staff, but “not everyone,” a senior ministry official said, indicating that some others left there may be hoping to follow suit — or already be on their way to Seoul.
According to the ministry, one female server said during questioning, “I’ve come to escape to Seoul where there is hope, as sanctions intensified recently and I lost hope for the North Korean system.” Another defector also said, “I’d developed a desire to live as a South Korean after gaining knowledge about South Korea’s democracy while watching TV shows and dramas overseas.”
About half of the approximately 130 North Korean restaurants, which would collectively deposit around $10 million a year in state coffers, are believed to be struggling to meet their quota, some resorting to illicit sex services and supplementary food sales to court more customers and boost revenues, the ministry official noted.
The official also said, “We have made our position clear to relevant countries that the defectors must come to South Korea according to their free will, and not be repatriated to the North against their will. But there is a need for stronger cooperation with those countries, as we can’t rule out the possibility for further group defections as the sanctions and pressure drive kicks into high gear.”
[The Korea Herald]