Seoul yesterday pushed forward with plans to build a re-education camp to hold up to 500 defectors from the North.
The Government has set aside just over US$4 million (HK$31 million) to build a camp where defectors will be housed and educated before entering South Korean society, a Ministry of Unification official said.
Defectors are currently detained by the Agency for National Security and Planning for a few months before joining South Korean citizens. For the first two years they are under police surveillance. The Ministry of Welfare helps them relocate and find jobs.
'The current programme has many problems and has resulted in one defector trying to return to North Korea, and several others committing crimes from petty theft to burglary,' said Yoo Dong-ryul, a researcher at the Strategy Institute to Counter North Korea.
'This is an important step to prepare for unification. If we can't handle 20 to 100 defectors, what will we do when there are thousands coming to the South?' The Ministry of Unification says the camp will start housing up to 100 defectors next year, and will expand to receive up to 500 inmates.
'This will prepare South Korea to receive more defectors,' said an official, who estimated 1,500 to 2,000 North Korean escapees were already in China or Russia.