Hoping to Lure High-Level Defectors, South Korea Increases Rewards
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea said on Sunday that it would quadruple the cash reward it provides for North Korean defectors arriving with sensitive information to 1 billion won, or $860,000, in an effort to encourage more elite members from the North to flee.
Since famine hit the North in the mid-1990s, more than 30,000 North Koreans have defected to the South. The South Korean government helps them resettle by providing job training, rent and other subsidies.
But it has also offered extra cash rewards for those who defected with important information on the North Korean military or the inner workings of the secretive North Korean government, as well as for those who fled with military planes or other weapons.
On Sunday, the Unification Ministry, a South Korean government agency in charge of North Korea policies, said that it planned to increase the cash bonus for a defector with such information to $860,000 from $217,000.
Defectors who flee with a warship or a military fighter jet will also get $860,000, instead of the current $130,000.
Those who arrive with lesser weapons, like a tank or a machine gun, can expect rewards ranging from $43,000 to $260,000.
The new cash awards will take effect in April, the ministry said.
South Korea said the drastic increases reflected the effects of inflation over the 20 years since the rewards were last adjusted.
They come at a time when South Korean officials say that more elite members from North Korea, deeply disappointed with their leader, Kim Jong-un, and fearful of his “reign of terror,” are trying to defect to the South.
Those fears can hardly have been eased by recent reports that North Korea had executed five security officials by antiaircraft fire, possibly because they had failed to prevent United States cyberattacks that disrupted several missile tests.
Last summer, Thae Yong-ho, the No. 2 diplomat at the North Korean Embassy in London, arrived in the South with his family, saying he wanted to escape the threat of execution and to give his two sons a better future in South Korea.
In 1983, a North Korean military pilot named Lee Woong-pyung fled to the South with his MiG-19 fighter jet, breaching the heavily guarded border between the two Koreas.
Today, almost all defectors from the totalitarian North flee through its border with China, though Mr. Kim has taken steps to tighten that border in the five years since he took power.
The number of North Korean defectors arriving in the South, which peaked with 2,914 in 2009, dropped to 1,418 last year.
Their trip can be costly, running into the thousands of dollars.
As it became more risky to cross the border into China, North Korean border guards demanded bigger bribes in return for letting people slip through, according to human rights activists who help defectors.
Once in China, defectors have to pay smugglers to take them to countries like Laos and Thailand, where they can seek asylum in the South Korean Embassy.
If they are caught in China and repatriated, they could face a long stretch in a prison camp or worse.
Many spend months and even years in China as illegal migrants to raise the cash they need to make the trip to the South.
More than 70 percent of the defectors who make it to the South are women.
Defectors who have settled in the South often pay smugglers to help bring their relatives from the North.
Some smugglers also collect their fees after the defectors arrive in the South and start earning wages.