North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un has ordered government agencies, including the powerful State Security Department, to exert pressure on the family members of those who have defected to South Korea in a bid to get them to return home, according to sources inside the country.
A source from North Hamgyong province, on the border with China, recently told RFA’s Korean Service that Kim’s directive concerned “bringing back people who were tricked by the South Korean National Intelligence Service” and had “gone to South Korea against their will.”
“The instruction stresses that the South Korean National Intelligence Service should be held responsible for this disgraceful act while a peaceful atmosphere with South Korea is being created,” the source said, referring to a recent thaw in tensions between the two rival nations that saw Kim meet with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in last month to discuss peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Kim also called for plans to “stop the traitors from taking an active part in the United Nations and on other international stages,” where they have exposed human rights abuses in the North, and to entice “North Korean defectors in South Korea who are experiencing difficulties adjusting to South Korean society” to return home, he said.
In order to do so, the source added, government agencies have begun “quietly investigating the families of defectors.”
“State security agents are gathering information on defectors’ families in each person’s work unit and are simultaneously working to propagandize defectors,” he said.
“They are forcing the defectors’ family members to try to convince their relatives in South Korea to come back [to North Korea].”
A second source from Yanggang province, also on China’s border, told RFA that State Security agents have stepped up patrols in his region recently and specifically mentioned a case in which they had “visited the home of a defector family and forced the mother to call her son” who had relocated to the South.
“The State security agents are maneuvering to have the son come back home,” he said.
However, the source said, “most [family members of defectors] are wary” of the orders they have been given by the authorities and instead “tell their relatives who have fled to South Korea or other countries not to be tricked by State Security Department” propaganda.
A North Korean defector who relocated to the South Korea three years ago confirmed to RFA that family members recently began calling and trying to convince him to return home.
“I recently received two calls from my wife in North Korea during which she begged me to return, saying that if I changed my mind and came back to the heart of North Korea’s leader, [the authorities] would not accuse me of any crime and we could live happily ever after,” said the defector, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“My wife proudly said our son [in North Korea] is doing well at his school … but I could tell from the sound of her voice that she was very nervous. I got the feeling that there was someone next to her, giving her instructions.”
Around 30,000 North Koreans have fled to the far wealthier South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. According to South Korea’s Unification Ministry data, 1,418 reached the South in 2016, while arrivals fell 21 percent to 1,127 in 2017.
The South has blamed the drop in defections on tighter border controls by North Korea and China, after a spike in 2016 that included an unusually high number of North Korean elites.
Reported by Myungchul Lee for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.