North Korean defectors who have precariously settled in the South are watching warily as the two Koreas cozy up to each other.
Already last Thursday one TV channel raised suspicions that not all of the members of a group of North Korean women who defected from a restaurant in China in 2016 came to South Korea out of their own volition.
The following day, the Unification Ministry said, “There is a need to verify the facts.” That has raised fears that the government could send some of the defectors back to their oppressive homeland.
The official position remains that they came of their own volition, but now some news media have raised suspicions that the National Intelligence Service orchestrated their defection. …
The shift in the ministry’s attitude has made other defectors nervous. One woman who came to South Korea in 2008 and is raising a son here said, “I haven’t slept more than an hour a night since the inter-Korean summit. People like me who have been living quietly could be dragged off to North Korea any moment.”
Some 31,500 North Korean defectors live in South Korea, and many are feeling unsure of their status amid the thaw. They have been seen as having the potential to build bridges between the two sides if the two Koreas reunify but could now find themselves treated as obstacles to the smooth running of the political machine.
They are complaining about the South Korean government’s indifference and ostracism by other South Koreans. To them, it would be a devastating signal if some of the restaurant staff are sent back to the North.
Defectors who returned voluntarily were not punished since they were considered to have been “abducted” by the South. One defector said, “The fate of the family members they left behind in North Korea is very important for defectors. If they become targets of reprisals, the defectors in the South would come under enormous pressure.”