Understanding North Korean Migrants

North Korean defectors, refugees, migrants?

These terms are used to refer to individuals who have left North Korea since the North-South division and who have chosen to accept South Korean citizenship rather than pursuing citizenship in another country. Before the 1990s, the term ‘defecting soldier’ was commonly used, but after the period of hardship in North Korea (1996-2000), a greater number of people began leaving North Korea for reasons of survival, leading to the use of the term “North Korean migrant.”

Life Outside of North Korea

North Korean migrants often have prior experience living in or traveling through nearby China due to difficulties of life in North Korea. According to data from 2015, 77.2% of North Korean migrants have experience living in a third country. (Those with no experience living a third country make up 33.3%, with 0.5% declining to answer the question) Roughly 20,000~100,000 North Korean migrants are estimated to be currently living in China, although it is difficult to acquire more accurate figures.

  • Exposure to danger during escape

  • Uncertainty of status

  • Disconnect from family; loneliness or discord.

South Korea Entry Process

Number of North Korean Migrants in South Korea

Neighbors from the North:

Those who chose South Korea due to hardships of life in North Korea and difficulties after escaping are designated “North Korean migrants” by the “Decision on the Protection of North Korean Migrants.” These migrants acquire the same rights and duties of South Korean citizens, and the “Law on North Korean Migrant Protection and Resettlement Support,” secures a wide array of services for their stability.