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- South Korea is cutting the time limit for interrogating North Korean defectors from 180 days to 90.
- The screening process is used to ensure North Korean agents aren’t disguising themselves as defectors, and is followed by a mandatory three-month education on South Korea.
- The change was announced with new measures to help defectors enter the workforce more easily.
- Each year more than 1,000 North Koreans defect to the South.
South Korea will cut the time it spends interrogating North Korean defectors in half.
The country’s Ministry of Unification confirmed to Business Insider it will shorten the questioning period – from up to 180 days down to 90 – for all defectors who arrive to South Korea.
The change was made to “secure stable settlement of North Korean defectors,” the ministry said in a statement after the amendment passed South Korea’s cabinet on Tuesday.
Each year more than 1,000 North Koreans defect to the South.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) leads the screening process into defectors’ backgrounds and motivations, partly to ensure they are not North Korean agents. A “joint interrogation center” was opened by NIS in 2008 but after claims of mistreatment the name was changed to a “refugee protection center” and open-door interrogations are now required.
The questioning process usually takes a few weeks, though some escapees are held for several months.
Defectors are then sent to Hanawon, a center south of Seoul that provides a three-month mandatory education on life in South Korea.
New arrivals learn how to take public transport, open bank accounts and can even do a homestay with a local family. But democracy and capitalism can be the hardest topics for defectors to grasp.
Once they enter society, defectors are provided with $6,450 a year and help with housing and employment. The new limit on interrogations was announced as part of a restructure to help more North Korean arrivals find work.
The rule on how long defectors can be questioned has changed with different administrations. There were no limits on screening periods before 2010, when the 180 day window was introduced.
The new 90 day period was proposed in late 2016- shortly before a North Korean soldier made a dramatic escape across the Demilitarized Zone – and will be enforced once President Moon Jae In signs the amendment at the end of February.
At the end of 2017, South Korea was home to 31,339 North Korean defectors.