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Charted: The Number of North Korean Defectors (1998-2023)



North Korean defectors charted over time

Why Are the Number of North Korean Defectors Decreasing?

North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is a totalitarian dictatorship with extremely limited freedoms and rights reported for its citizens.

Due to the country’s tight controls on borders and information, people that want to leave the country often have to physically escape and are known as defectors.

These visuals use data from the South Korea’s Ministry of Reunification to track the number of North Korean defectors who make it to South Korea each year, as well as international reporting to explain the dwindling numbers.

North Korean Defectors from 1998–2023

The table below shows the amount of successful North Korean defectors that arrived in South Korea from 1998 through to June of 2023. Note that there was no data available for 1999 and 2000.

YearNorth Korean
2023 (as of June)99

From the 1990s to 2010, we can see the amount of North Korean defectors steadily climbing to a peak of 2,914 people in 2009 alone.

More residents looked to escape the country after suffering through the North Korean Famine of 1994 to 1998—with death estimates ranging from 240,000 to 3,500,000—as well as the country’s increasingly bleak economic conditions following the collapse of the neighboring Soviet Union.

We can also see the immediate impact of Kim Jung Un’s rise to power since 2012, with successful defections immediately dropping by 1,204 year-over-year and declining consistently over the next decade. Stronger border controls were one factor, as were improved relations with China and agreements with Russia on sending escapees back to North Korea.

And North Korea has seen defections drop further, from thousands to low hundreds, since 2020. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the country shut down all borders, created new barriers, and significantly limited internal travel.

Mapping Escape Routes from North Korea

routes taken by North Korean defectors
Click here to see a larger version of the graphic above.

Since they can’t cross the heavily surveilled and militarized border to South Korea, the Korean Demilitarized Zone, North Korean defectors have to travel through Russia or China to get to friendly countries in order to seek asylum.

For most defectors, these include reaching Mongolia to the north or Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam to the south, which all work with the South Korean government on reunification.

There are also defectors that try to stay in Russia or China. In 2009, a global refugee survey found there were 11,000 North Korean refugees hiding in China close to the North Korea border alone, not accounting for the rest of the country.

Others are able to seek refuge in other countries and eventually attain citizenship. In 2022, the UNHCR registered 260 refugees and 127 asylees from North Korea, with Germany hosting the most at 96 and the U.S. second at 70.

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Mapped: Which Countries Recognize Israel or Palestine, or Both?

In this visualization, we look at how international recognition of Israel and Palestine breaks down among the 193 UN member states.



Map showing the recognition of Israel and Palestine by the 193 UN member countries.

Which Countries Recognize Israel or Palestine, or Both?

The modern-day conflict between Israel and Palestine emerged from the British Mandate for Palestine, which administered the former Ottoman Empire territory after World War I. But even after 75 years—and declarations of independence from each side—universal recognition eludes them.

In this visualization, we look at how Israel and Palestine recognition breaks down among the 193 UN member states as of November 14, 2023, using Wikpedia data for each state.

This post is a companion piece to separate maps showing the recognition of Israel and of Palestine by country.

A Declaration of Independence

The Jewish People’s Council declared the foundation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 (the same day that the last British forces left Haifa) on the basis of the 1947 UN Partition Plan, which divided the Mandate territories between Jewish and Arab populations.

U.S. President Truman granted de-facto recognition 11 minutes after the Israeli declaration. Not to be outdone by their Cold War adversary, the U.S.S.R. followed suit three days later with de-jure recognition and was joined by Warsaw Pact allies Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Poland.

By the end of 1948, 21 countries recognized Israel.

A Second Declaration of Independence

A declaration of independence for the State of Palestine, comprising the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, didn’t happen until 40 years later.

In the midst of the First Intifada, a five-year-long Palestinian uprising that began in 1987, the Palestine Liberation Organization proclaimed the new state in the city of Algiers on November 15, 1988.

A dozen countries, including 10 members of the Arab League along with Malaysia and Yemen, immediately recognized the new state. The Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, and most of the Muslim world also joined in recognizing the State of Palestine.

Recognition of Israel and Palestine by Country

As of November 2023, 163 UN member states have recognized Israel, while 138 have recognized Palestine.

UN Member StateRecognize Israel 🇮🇱Recognize Palestine 🇵🇸
🇦🇬Antigua and BarbudaYesYes
🇧🇦Bosnia and HerzegovinaYesYes
🇧🇫Burkina FasoYesYes
🇨🇻Cape VerdeYesYes
🇨🇫Central African RepublicYesYes
🇨🇷Costa RicaYesYes
🇨🇮Côte d'IvoireYesYes
🇨🇩Democratic Republic of the CongoYesYes
🇩🇴Dominican RepublicYesYes
🇸🇻El SalvadorYesYes
🇬🇶Equatorial GuineaYesYes
🇫🇲Federated States of MicronesiaYesNo
🇲🇭Marshall IslandsYesNo
🇳🇿New ZealandYesNo
🇰🇵North KoreaNoYes
🇲🇰North MacedoniaYesNo
🇵🇬Papua New GuineaYesYes
🇨🇬Republic of the CongoYesYes
🇰🇳Saint Kitts and NevisYesYes
🇱🇨Saint LuciaYesYes
🇻🇨Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesYesYes
🇸🇲San MarinoYesNo
🇸🇹São Tomé and PríncipeYesYes
🇸🇦Saudi ArabiaNoYes
🇸🇱Sierra LeoneYesYes
🇸🇧Solomon IslandsYesNo
🇿🇦South AfricaYesYes
🇰🇷South KoreaYesNo
🇸🇸South SudanYesYes
🇱🇰Sri LankaYesYes
🇬🇲The GambiaYesYes
🇹🇹Trinidad and TobagoYesNo
🇦🇪United Arab EmiratesYesYes
🇬🇧United KingdomYesNo
🇺🇸United StatesYesNo

Most of the countries that do not currently recognize Israel are Muslim-majority countries. However, some Muslim-majority countries have recognized Israel, such as Egypt and Jordan, who specifically agreed to do so under peace treaties signed in 1979 and 1994 respectively.

Several conflicts have also resulted in some countries suspending relations with Israel. The 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars (also called the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War, respectively) all saw countries suspend diplomatic relations, including Mali and the Maldives. In the case of Eastern Bloc countries that did so in 1967 and 1973, many resumed relations after the fall of the Soviet Union.

On the other side, despite more countries recognizing the State of Palestine over time, none of the G7 and only nine of the G20 have recognized the state. Similarly, only a minority of the EU has endorsed the declaration.


Israel and Palestine continue to vie for recognition in the international arena, with the former gaining recognition from a few countries including Bhutan and the UAE in 2020, and the latter from Colombia in 2018 and Saint Kitts and Nevis in 2019.

But universal recognition continues to elude both sides, with many countries awaiting a formal resolution to the conflict from the two sides.

It’s worth noting that both Israel and Palestine took steps towards recognition under the Oslo Accords, signed on September 13, 1993. The agreement saw Palestine recognize the State of Israel, put an end to the First Intifada, and allowed for limited self-government under a new Palestinian National Authority in Gaza and the West Bank. It promised to lay the groundwork for a two-state solution; a promise of peace that has yet to be realized.

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