The number of North Koreans defecting to South Korea dropped 21 per cent in 2017, its lowest level since Kim Jong-un came to power six years ago, according to official data released here on Friday.
A total of 1,127 North Koreans arrived in South Korea last year as compared to 1,418 in 2016, the Unification Ministry data showed.
The number of defectors peaked in 2009, at 2,914.
Experts believe that security has been bolstered especially since the second half of 2015, when more border controls and high-tension barbed wire fences were set up around the Tumen River, which separates China from northeastern North Korea.
Last year, the vast majority of defectors were women (83 per cent), thus maintaining the trend, as women make up 71 per cent of all North Korean defectors to the South.
A total of 31,339 North Koreans have managed to flee to the neighbouring country after the Korean War (1950-1953) ended with an armistice, but no peace treaty has ever been signed.
The tally surpassed 30,000 in November 2016.
Unable to cross into South Korea by land, majority of the defectors choose to cross the Amnok or Tumen rivers to reach China and from there to a third country – mainly Thailand and Mongolia – where they ask for asylum at South Korean embassies and consulates, something they cannot do in Beijing.
China wants to avoid mass migrations of North Koreans and does not consider them as refugees but as “economic migrants”.
If defectors are found in China they are forcibly repatriated to North Korea.