What Happens To North Korean Defectors?

North Korea restricts citizens from leaving its borders. So what happens to those who manage to defect from the authoritarian government?

In August, a high-ranking North Korean military officer fled to South Korea in a rare senior-level defection. The incident came weeks after a group of 13 North Korean restaurant workers defected to the South through China.

In today's Seeker Daily report, Trace Dominguez looks at the history and particulars of defection in North Korea -- one of the world's most darkly fascinating societies.

Defection is the act of deliberately leaving one country to take up residence in, and give allegiance to, an enemy country. In the U.S., fleeing to Canada would not count as a defection, but fleeing to Russia just might. Of course, with North Korea, pretty much every other country is an enemy country.

It's estimated that hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have successfully defected since the mid-20th century. Most flee through the country's border with China, then move on to other counties, since China has an official policy of extraditing refugees back to North Korea. Some, however, choose to stay and hide -- an estimated 200,000 North Koreans are living secretly in China.

RELATED: North Korea's Latest Nuclear Test: the Facts

South Korea takes in a lot of North Korean refugees, as well. For many years, South Korea was very accommodating to defectors, providing stipends and housing. In recent years, these privileges have been reduced.

An interesting statistical number: More than 80 percent of North Korean defectors are women, according to international agencies. Women defectors are most often fleeing extreme poverty in North Korea, while male defectors typically desert for ideological reasons.

According to the South Korean government, the number of North Korean defectors has dropped by half in recent years. North Korea has beefed up security along the border since Kim Jong-un assumed leadership in 2011. China has made similar efforts, rolling out barbed wire fence along the entire length of its border.

Check out Trace's report for more details, including the strange saga of "double defectors" who return to North Korea as celebrities on state-run television. Or click over to this story on the real reasons behind North Korean food shortages.

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

Al Jazeera: Top North Korean Diplomat in UK Defects to South Korea

ABC: North Korean Defections Drop Under Kim Jong-Un

NPR: South Korea's Newest TV Stars are North Korean Defectors