North Korea Today Special Edition

Research Institute for North Korea Society
[Weekly Newsletter] Special Edition September 2009

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]

The Current Situation of North Korean People
May-August 2009
(Food, Human Rights and Refugee)

September 2009
Venerable Pomnyun (Chairman of Good Friends)
E-Mail: pomnyun@jungto.org

1. The Food Situation of North Korean people
[Summary] In general, there is no food ration and food shortage is very serious. Food ration is either suspended or done in reduced quantities even in the cities with the best food condition such as Pyongyang and Hoeryong. The majority of ordinary people in rural areas are suffering from malnutrition because they are surviving on one to two meals a day or some porridge. However, there seems to be no massive death from starvation as there was during the spring hardship period in 2008. One of the reasons is that the majority of people are mobilized for 150-day battle, and they are fed at least with lunch even though the nutritional quality of the meal is very low. Another reason is that because many died of hunger last year those who survived have been taking extreme austerity measures for food since early this year in order to save food and deal with food shortage.

2. The Trend of Grain Prices
[Summary] Despite serious food shortage, the food price has stabilized since May. It is because the market is remarkably suppressed by increased control and most people do not have much purchasing power.
Table 1. The Price of Rice in Four Regions(April-Agust 2009)
(Unit: N. Korean Won/Kg)

Table 2. The Price of Corn in Four Regions (April-Agust 2009)

(Unit: N. Korean Won/Kg)

3. This Year's Crop Situation
[Summary] Although the 150-day battle campaign encouraged more production, the harvest level declined due to: 1) insufficient agricultural supplies such as fertilizer; 2) bad weather conditions such as low temperature, drought, and flood; 3) insufficient labor due to food shortage. Moreover, private small farming lots are confiscated, making it more difficult for ordinary residents to secure food. People are worried and predict that there will be another mass starvation next year.
1) Agricultural Policy

2) The Crop Situation

4. Market Situation
[Summary] General markets are closed and diverted to Farmers markets. Theses are attempts of normalizing the distribution system through state-run stores. The market is remarkably suppressed because all residents are forced to do extra labor during 150-day battle, and the control on markets is extremely tightened. Nonetheless, the situation of North Korea is such that people cannot live without market activities anymore, and the markets are continuing, albeit faltering.

5. The Human Rights Situation of the North Korean People
[Summary] The human rights situation has worsened: forced labor performed by residents during 150-day battle with the goal of a strong and prosperous nation by 2012; strict investigations on officials to uproot structural corruption; tightened ideology control and corrections forcing them to write their illegal activities; and increased control over residents to eliminate anti-socialism. However, all the investigations and controls are not very effective because it is impossible for both residents and officials to live without illegal activities and corruption. Meanwhile, harsh controls and punishments are prevalent to set examples, deteriorating the human rights situations of most North Korean people.
1) Investigations on Officials

2) Control over Residents

6. The Refugee Situation
[Summary] New refugees who recently crossed the national border are rarely found due to increased control over the national border area. The situation of the refugees already living in China is very grave. However, the possibility of a new refugee outbreak is increasing as living conditions in North Korea continue to deteriorate. For now, it is difficult for anyone to cross the border without third-party assistance due to increased control around the border.

Survey on North Korean Refugees Living in China
1) Survey period: June 4 ~ 12, 2009 (8 nights and 9 days)
2) Survey area: Joyang City and Hurudo City in Yonyung Province, Wangcheong Prefecture in Jilin Province, and Villages near Tumen and Yalu rivers on the Chinese side
3) Interviewees: 10 North Korean refugees (9 women, 1 man)
4) Time of defection
① Less than a year: two people (a married couple who recently crossed the border)
② 3-5 years: 3 people
③ 6-10 years: 5 people
5) Human trafficking involvement
① Interviewee 1 and 2 voluntarily crossed the border
② Interviewee 3-10 were sold at 7,000-18,000 Yuan, but they do not fall in typical human trafficking cases. They intentionally came to China to make money or to get help from their relatives. They have lived in China for more than three years and are settled down quite well.
6) Household income
Most of them have serious difficulties in their livelihood except interviewee 3. Corn farming (annual income 3,000 Yuan-6,000 Yuan), Most of them are very poor (their Han-Chinese husband's earning ability is very low)
7) Housing condition
① Interviewee 3 lives in a clean and big house, with TV and audio set, and a tractor
② Interviewee 6, though poor, lives in a relatively clean house newly built with the compensation her father-in-law received after an accident.
③ Interviewee 8 lives in a newly built brick house after a fire breakout destroyed her old house
④ Others live in a coarse mud hut
8) Human rights violations:
③ Interviewee 5 is frequently beaten by her husband and lives under strict control. Her husband works in a mine but wastes his wages in gambling.
④ Except for interviewee 6, 8, and 9, all others are under strict control of their Han-Chinese family members. There have been many cases of North Korean women in the region running away heading for South Korea. As a result, the Chinese residents became increasingly suspicious of foreigners.
9) Conclusion
① There are many North Korean refugees in China who have lived more than three years there. They are more or less settled down.
② Their children's Hukou (official registration) and education are urgent problem and need immediate attention.
③ The control of Chinese police over North Korean refugees are relatively loosened compared to 2006. Without external alarm, the refugees will be tacitly tolerated and the status quo will remain.
④ There are very few cases of refugees who recently cross the border. However, the refugees trafficked from North Korea and already living in China suffer from harsh life. Most of them want to go to South Korea, but it is difficult without the help of brokers. ⑤ It is impossible to obtain the exact number of North Korean refugees living in China. Compared to 2006 survey in the same region, the total number of North Korean refugees decreased a little because some went to South Korea and others were repatriated to North Korea. New refugees are very rare. The best estimate is that there are around 50,000 North Korean refugees in China.