On July 27, 1953 the Korean War ended in armistice with 80,000 South Korean soldiers unaccounted for. According to the Washington Post, North Korea returned about 8,300 South Korean troops as part of the armistice, leaving the fate of the remaining troops unknown.
Eventually, most were believed to have died in the war–until a group of POWs escaped from North Korea in 1994. They escaped through “the northern tip of North Korea into China…making their way back to South Korea.”
“A few dozen more” POWs have followed since then, all describing “years of forced labor in coal mines.”
Some of the escapees tried to marry and assimilate in North Korea instead of taking the risk of crossing borders, but they found themselves on the bottom rung of North Korea’s state-run society: a position from which they faced the threat of “gulags for even minor slip-ups.”
The 80 POWs who managed to escape thus far have convinced the South Korean government that North Korea was holding “tens of thousands” of South Korean POWs at one time following the war. Because of this, South Korea renewed efforts to win the release of any remaining POWs in 2008. But those efforts have been undone by the North’s hostility toward South Korea in recent years.
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