Mon. Jan 24th, 2022

Officials say the man who crossed into North Korea last week was a defector who was struggling in his new life in the South.

The person who crossed South Korea’s strong fortified border with North Korea last week was a defector from the North struggling in its new life, according to officials and media reports.

The news on Tuesday heightened the new debate in South Korea over how such defectors are treated in the country and raises questions as to whether they receive adequate support after embarking on the dangerous journey of the impoverished, strictly controlled North to the rich, democratic South.

A South Korean military official told Reuters news agency that the defector who returned was a man in his 30s who entered the country just over a year ago.

The official said he was making a poor living while working as a caretaker in the South Korean capital, Seoul.

“I would say he was classified as a lower class, and barely scratched a livelihood,” the official said, refusing to elaborate with reference to privacy.

NK News website also quoted a South Korean official as saying the man “had a difficult life” in his new home.

The official expressed concern that the former defector could have been a spy and said the man did not have a job that would give him access to sensitive information.

South Korea’s army, which came under fire for the border crossing, launched an investigation into how the North Korean man evaded guards despite being caught on surveillance cameras hours before crossing the border.

North Korean officials did not comment on the incident and state media did not report it.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that police in the northern Seoul district of Nowon, who provided security protection and other care to the man, expressed concern in June about his possible return to the North.

But it said no action had been taken due to a lack of concrete evidence.

Police declined to comment.

An official at Seoul’s Ministry of Unification, which dealt with cross-border issues, said on Tuesday that the returnee had received government support for personal safety, housing, medical treatment and employment.

The man had little interaction with neighbors, and was seen throwing away his belongings a day before crossing the border, Yonhap reported.

“He took out a mattress and bedding to garbage cans that morning, and it was weird because they were all too new,” a neighbor quoted by Yonhap as saying. “I thought about asking him to give it to us, but in the end did not do it, because we have never said hello to each other.”

As of September, some 33,800 North Koreans have relocated to South Korea and embarked on a long, risky journey – usually via China – in pursuit of a new life while fleeing poverty and oppression at home.

Since 2012, it has been confirmed that only 30 defectors have returned to the North, according to the Ministry of Unification.

But defectors and activists say there may be many more unknown cases among those who have struggled to adjust to life in the South.

About 56 percent of the defectors are categorized as low-income, according to ministry data submitted to the defector-what-legislator Ji Seong-ho. Nearly 25 percent are in the lowest group subject to national basic subsistence subsidies, six times the ratio of the general population.

In a survey released last month by the North Korean Human Rights Center and NK Social Research Database in Seoul, about 18 percent of 407 defectors surveyed said they were willing to return to the North, of which quotes most nostalgia.

“There are a complex range of factors, including longing for families left behind in the North, and emotional and economic problems that emerge as they are resettled,” the Unification Ministry official said, promising to investigate policies and improve support for defectors

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