List of North Korean defectors in South Korea

This is a list of notable defectors from North Korea to South Korea. In total, as of 2016, 31,093 North Korean defectors had entered South Korea.[1] The dates are those when the defectors arrived.


  • 1953
    • 21 September – Air force senior lieutenant No Kum-sok (age 21) flew his MiG-15 to the South. Since this fighter plane was then the best the Communist bloc had, No's defection was considered an intelligence bonanza, and he was awarded the then high sum of $100,000 and the right to reside in the United States.


  • 1968
    • Kim Shin-jo – on 21 January, one of a 31-person team sent to the South to assassinate then-President Park Chung-hee. This led to retaliation in what is known as the Silmido incident. After his life was spared, he has become a missionary and has written books on how he found inner peace in Christianity.


  • 1982
    • Ri Han-yong – nephew of Kim Jong-il; shot to death in 1997 in Gyeonggi-do by unknown assailants widely suspected to be North Korean agents, in what was variously speculated to be an attempt to silence him after his publication of a tell-all book about Kim Jong-il's private life, revenge for his mother Song Hye-rang's defection a year earlier, or a warning to fellow defector Hwang Jang-yop.[2]


  • 1992
    • Kang Chol-hwan – Due to North Korea's policy of collective punishment, Kang was imprisoned at age 9 along with his entire family after his father, a Zainichi Korean who'd returned to North Korea, was accused of treason.[3] He was released ten years later, fled to China and defected to South Korea in 1992, where he became a prominent human rights activist and a columnist at The Chosun Ilbo.[4] In 2001 he published a memoir titled The Aquariums of Pyongyang, describing his experiences in Sunghori and Yodok concentration camps.[4] In addition to a human rights advocate, Kang became a vocal critic of South Korea's Sunshine Policy under the Kim Dae-jung administration, arguing that it propped up the Kim family dictatorship and worsened the suffering of the North Korean people.[5]
  • 1995
    • Lee Soon-ok – December – high-ranking party member from northern province defected with her son to South Korea via China and Hong Kong after suffering seven years in a political prisoner camp at Kaechon. She has since written her memoirs, Eyes of the Tailless Animals, and testified before the United States House of Representatives and the United Nations.
  • 1997
    • Hwang Jang-yop – 12 February – former secretary of the North Korean Workers' Party and his aide, who came to the Consular Section of the South Korean Embassy in Beijing seeking political asylum. They arrived in Seoul on 20 April after staying in the South Korean Consulate in Beijing for 34 days and in the Philippines for 33 days. Hwang is the highest ranking North Korean official to defect. Kim Dok-hong, his aide, defected with him.[6][7]
    • Jang Yeong-jin - Former soldier who defected to the south through the demilitarised zone. A previous attempt via China in 1996 had failed. The only openly gay North Korean defector and the author of A Mark of Red Honour.[8][9]
  • 1999
    • Jang Gil-su – fled North Korea at age 15, and became famous in South Korea following publication there and in the U.S. media of his chilling crayon drawings, which depict horrific abuses by North Korean authorities against North Korean civilians.
    • Park Sang-hak – Worked in a propaganda unit of the Kim Il-sung Socialist Youth League until his family fled to South Korea. His work to spread information into North Korea resulted in an assassination attempt in 2011. Participated in the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2009 and has released balloons from South Korea resulting in multiple arrests.[10]


  • 2015
    • Unidentified Colonel – It was announced on 11 April 2016 that a colonel from North Korea's Reconnaissance General Bureau intelligence agency defected to South Korea the previous year. South Korean authorities said that the colonel had been responsible for supervising espionage efforts against the South.[18] Senior-level defections are rare, though no motive was released regarding this defection.[19]
  • 2016
    • 12 women and one man working at a North Korean government run restaurant in China defected to South Korea in April 2016.[20]
    • Thae Yong-ho, North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom.[21]
  • 2017
    • Initially identified only as "Oh",[22] 24-year-old soldier Oh Chong-song[23] fled North Korea at the Joint Security Area on 13 November 2017. North Korean soldiers fired over 40 rounds at Oh and he was struck five times.[24][25] He survived the shooting, was rescued by South Korean soldiers, and his condition stabilized at a South Korean hospital after treatment for bullet wounds and multiple intestinal parasitic worms.[26][27]
    • On 20 December 2017 a defector (name unknown) walked across the DMZ. Hours later, South Korean soldiers fired warning shots at North Korean guards who appeared to be searching for the defector as they approached the border.[28]


  • 2020
    • At the end of 2020, there was a former gymnast from North Korea who successfully defected to South Korea undetected due to loose screws at the demilitarized zone. By the time the unnamed North Korean man was captured without incident the next day, he was half a mile south of the fence. He then expressed to the South Korean officials that he wanted to defect.[29]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Policies North Korean Defectors". Ministry of Unification. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  2. ^ Pollack, Andrew (17 February 1997). "Korean shooting is casting cloud on signs of thaw". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 October 2007.
  3. ^ "Child prisoner: Kang Chol Hwan". NBC News. 29 October 2003.
  4. ^ a b "Can N.Koreans Topple Their Dictator?". The Chosun Ilbo.
  5. ^ "Wall Street Journal, 13 July 2005".
  6. ^ Demick, Barbara (2010). Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea (UK ed.). Granta Publications. p. 66. ISBN 978-1-84708-141-4.
  7. ^ Scanlon, Charles (18 April 2006). "US pressure on 'criminal' N Korea". BBC News. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  8. ^ "A defector tells what it's like to be gay in North Korea". SBS News.
  9. ^ "North Korea's only openly gay defector: 'it's a weird life'". The Guardian.
  10. ^ Feith, David (5 July 2013). "Park Sang Hak: North Korea's Enemy Zero". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 6 July 2013.
  11. ^ Kim, Hyung-jin (5 July 2010), "AP Exclusive: NKorean killed for spreading Gospel", Associated Press, archived from the original on 9 July 2010, retrieved 8 July 2010
  12. ^ "N.Korean risks life, flees for love of jazz piano". redOrbit. 23 March 2006.
  13. ^ "INVITATION" (PDF). NK Economic Watch. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
  14. ^ Sang-Hun, Choe (17 December 2008). "North Korean defector's flight to musical freedom". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
  15. ^ Sylvia Hui (1 July 2012). "Jang Jin-sung, North Korean Poet, Writes Of Hunger, Brutality In The Country". Associated Press. He says he was one of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's favorite propaganda artists, singing the praises of the Dear Leader in dozens of poems. But these days Jang Jin-sung says he prefers to tell the truth about North Korea.
  16. ^ Park, Yeonmi (21 October 2014). "North Korea's Black Market Generation". Oslo Freedom Forum. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  17. ^ Jaafari, Shirin (10 October 2014). "She risked her life to defect from North Korea – now she wants the world to hear her story". Public Radio International. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  18. ^ John Bacon (11 April 2016). "Going South: Top North Korean colonel defects". USA Today. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
  19. ^ Hyung-Jin Kim (11 April 2016). "Seoul: Senior North Korea military officer defects to South". Associated Press. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
  20. ^ "North Korean restaurant defectors released in South Korea". BBC News. 17 August 2016.
  21. ^ "North Korea diplomat defects to South". BBC News. 17 August 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  22. ^ Eltagouri, Marwa (24 November 2017). "What we've learned about the North Korean soldier whose daring escape was caught on video". The Washington Post.
  23. ^ Pritha Paul (5 December 2017). "North Korean Defector's Survival A 'Miracle,' South Korean Surgeon Says". Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  24. ^ What parasitic worms in defector reveal about conditions in North Korea Ben Westcott and Taehoon Lee, CNN, 22 November 2017
  25. ^ Hancocks, Paula; Westcott, Ben (14 November 2017). "Soldier shot by North Korean guards while defecting to the South". CNN. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  26. ^ North Korea defection: Footage of moment soldier flees Video by Simon Atkinson, BBC News, 22 November 2017
  27. ^ North Korea defector wakes after being shot crossing the DMZ BBC News 21 November 2017
  28. ^ "North Korea defection: Warning shots as soldier crosses border to South". BBC World News. 20 December 2017.
  29. ^ "How Did the North Korean Defector Cross the Border? Loose Screws". The New York Times. 27 November 2020.