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The body of a North Korean defector has been discovered in her Seoul home, and is believed to have been decomposing for nearly a year. The woman, 49, defected from the dictatorship to South Korea in 2002. According to the Korea Times, she was then celebrated as an example of successful resettlement. However, her significantly decomposed body, still wearing her winter clothes, was discovered on October 19, Yancheon district police said yesterday.
Her name is currently being withheld. The clothes, combined with the extent to which she had decomposed, has led investigators to believe that she had died nearly a year ago.
They are planning to ask the National Forensic Service to conduct an autopsy on her body to establish when she died and if there was any foul play involved, however. According to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification – a government department focused on reunifying Korea – the woman started working at the Korea Hana Foundation after defecting from Kim Jong-Un’s regime.
There she worked as a counsellor to other defectors – although, according to the Yonhap news agency, police noted that she quit this role in 2017.
The Korea Times reports that her co-workers subsequently lost contact with her, and she had no family members in South Korea. Her body was finally discovered when an official of the city-owned public rental house provider tried to get in touch with her to have her contract renewed.
A Ministry of Unification official expressed regret over the case and vowed to improve the system to check on those who may need extra attention. The ministry only monitors North Korean defectors who are not included on the welfare program list of local governments.
The official stated that she was not on the ministry’s watch list. Hundreds of North Koreans try to cross the near-impenetrable border between North and South Korea known as the Korean demilitarised zone every year.
According to South Korea’s Unification Ministry, more than 33,000 North Koreans defected to the South since 1998 in the aftermath of the end of the Korean War in 1953. In general, North Korean defectors report living healthier and more satisfactory lives in South Korea.
According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Unification in 2021, over 76 percent of respondents said they were either “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with their lives here.
However, those who were “unsatisfied” picked “living without family” as the biggest reason (29.8 percent) for their dissatisfaction.
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In many cases defectors will stay in touch with, and even financially support, their families back in their hometowns.
In another survey conducted recently by the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, 21.8 percent of respondents said they communicated with their families or friends in the North this year, while 17.8 percent said they sent their money to them.
Unification Minister Kwon Young-se has promised to improve human rights for all North Koreans, including those who are struggling to adjust to South Korean society.
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