The number of people defecting from North to South Korea plunged in 2017

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Image: Reuters/Kim Hong-ji
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It’s a year that will be remembered for the dramatic escape by a soldier dashing across the border, but the overall number of people defecting from North Korea to South Korea fell sharply last year.

According to data released by South Korea’s unification ministry today (Jan. 5), 1,127 people defected from North Korea in 2017, down 21% from a year ago. Of them, 83% were women.

The South Korean government has said that the falling number of defectors is due in part to tighter border controls by North Korea and China, following a rise in defections in 2016 that included an unusually high number of elite North Koreans.

In addition to the North Korean soldier in November who sustained multiple gunshot wounds while making a daring escape to the South, another soldier also defected in December by crossing the border. Among the thousands who have defected from North Korea to the South, very few have done by crossing the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two countries—the last time it happened was in 2007, and prior to that in 1998.