South Korean Marines patrol a perimeter fence of Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea just south of the Northern Limit Line of the inter-Korean maritime border, in South Korea, 16 June 2020. EFE-EPA FILE/YONHAP SOUTH KOREA OUT

North Koreans crossed maritime border into South Korea: report

Seoul, May 18 (EFE).- Several North Koreans, including minors, recently crossed into South Korea by boat and are being questioned by authorities in Seoul, Yonhap news agency reported Wednesday.

The South’s military saw the fishing boat approaching the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea on May 6. It intercepted the vessel when it crossed the boundary, and its crew apparently expressed a desire to settle in South Korea, according to Yonhap.

The group is now at a military base in Seoul where members are being questioned by authorities, including the National Intelligence Service, in line with protocol when a North Korean citizen enters South Korean territory, since both countries remain technically at war.

In recent years, the number of North Koreans who have managed to reach South Korea has dropped dramatically (from nearly 1,000 in 2019 to just over 60 in 2021 and 2022) due in part to massive security tightening by the Kim Jong-un regime to prevent the entry of Covid-19 into its territory.

Desertions across the sea or land borders between the two countries are rare due to the level of military surveillance along the shared border, which is why most North Koreans who decide to leave their country escape into China.

Although the majority of defectors settle in China (the exact number is unknown, but some NGOs claim tens to hundreds of thousands), some try to reach the South, where more than 33,000 have arrived in the last two decades through a third country – mainly Thailand and Mongolia – by requesting asylum in South Korean embassies and consulates, a process that they cannot do in China.

Beijing, which wants to prevent mass migration of North Koreans, does not consider them as refugees but as “economic migrants,” so if it finds them on its territory it forcibly repatriates them to North Korea, where imprisonment and torture awaits them, as documented by humanitarian groups and the United Nations. EFE