For decades, South Korea has welcomed defectors from North Korea with glee, trotting them about as living testimony of the evil communist enemy to the north.
The smile is fading.A surge in the number of defectors is causing South Korea unprecedented woes in the form of high costs and a lack of decent jobs to give them.
Thirty-nine North Koreans have fled to the South so far this year, including eight loggers from Siberia and a family of three that came through China last week.
The $852,000 set aside this year to help settle defectors is already gone.
"We have too many defectors, creating a serious discrepancy between our budget and actual demands for compensation money," Lee Young-hwi, an official at the Health and Social Affairs Ministry, said recently.
North Korea watchers here say the increase in defections could indicate wide discontent among the North's 22 million people. Defectors have all reported severe food and energy shortages in the reclusive communist state.
By South Korean law, a Northern defector gets a minimum cash reward of $10,150. The amount rises depending on the quality of intelligence and equipment a defector brings and the number of family members with him.
Defectors were also put to work as propagandists. Government intelligence agencies make them tour the country making anti-communist speeches and TV appearances.
As of last year, a total of about 500 North Korean defectors had received cash rewards plus houses as compensation. But 24 who defected this year have not been paid compensation due to lack of funds.
Now the government is considering reducing the minimum compensation to $6,050 and give smaller housing allowances, officials said. It is also providing vocational training for defectors in addition to doling out cash.
A group of six lumberjacks who fled North Korean logging camps in Siberia in May were sent to a vocational school last week for training in electronics and auto maintenance.
About 12,000 North Koreans are reportedly working in several logging camps in Siberia, run by the Pyongyang government under contracts signed with the former Soviet Union in the early 1970s.
According to Seoul officials, about 170 North Koreans have escaped the logging camps, hoping to defect to the South. There also are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others hiding in China looking for ways to defect, they say.
South Korea has said that for humanitarian reasons it would allow all North Korean escapees from Siberian logging camps to defect. North Korea has warned that it will consider this kidnapping and take retaliatory action.