Arriving in the South: North Korean defectors walk through a corridor at Incheon International Airport with their faces hidden by jacket hoods, caps, dark sunglasses and masks, Tuesday. The nine defectors were found aboard a drifting wooden boat off Japan’s west coast on Sept. 13. / Yonhap
By Park Si-soo
A group of North Korean defectors, who were found aboard a drifting wooden boat off Japan’s west coast three weeks ago, arrived in Seoul, Tuesday.
The defectors ㅡ six adults and three children ㅡ arrived at Incheon International Airport at around 11:50 a.m. via a Korean Air flight. Their identities were not made public.
They left the flight with their faces hidden by jacket hoods, caps, sunglasses and masks. They remained tight-lipped despite a barrage of questions from reporters.
Surrounded by security guards, they skipped immigration and directly got onto a bus which took them to a state-run temporary shelter for North Korean defectors.
They will undergo questioning by the intelligence authorities before being sent to a resettlement center, said Cho Byung-jae, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
They had been investigated by Japanese authorities, who officially notified South Korea that they wanted to be sent to Seoul. Officials said the government will handle the issue in a humanitarian way in accordance with their wishes.
“They have expressed the desire to live in South Korea,” Cho said. “The government has decided to respect that.”
Their life-risking escape was reportedly led by a man who said he was a member of the North Korean People's Army. Another man in the group claims he is a grandson of Baek Nam-woon, a former chairman of the North’s Supreme People's Assembly, officials said.
Hundreds of North Koreans flee hunger or repression in the isolated communist state each year. The vast majority cross the border on foot to China before travelling to the South via a third country.
More than 21,700 North Koreas have arrived in the South since the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War. They have automatic citizenship in the South but must spend three months in a resettlement and education centre upon arrival.