As the risks rise, so do the fees of traffickers who assist North Koreans in their escape. These have doubled from five years ago.
A source said traffickers who used to charge $3400-4300 to cross the Yalu or Tumen rivers into China, now charge nearly $8600. In some areas along the Tumen River, the cost climbs to $14,000.
China has also boosted crackdowns on North Korean defectors because it fears a mass exodus.
Better living condition in North Korea also undoubtedly plays a part in less defectors. One researcher at a state-run think tank said since there are now some 400 markets in the North, and they have improved the lives of many who might earlier have risked their lives to flee destitution.
However, this same development has prompted more members of the elite to defect, often to escape the side effects of nascent capitalism.
“Capitalism has spawned corruption and business conflicts,” said Cho Dong-ho at Ewha Womens University. “It seems a lot of fat cats defect when they lose a battle over business interests or face corruption charges.”