GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 425 October 19, 2011

[“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.]
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[Intro] Is Crackdown on North Korean Refugees the Best Way?
Refugees Expected This Winter
Fees for Border Crossing Skyrocket as Surveillance Increases
Border-crossing Families Increase due to Food Crisis
No Means of Asking for Support from Daughter Who Fled to South Korea
Some Increase in Crops in North Hamgyong Farms
Lack of Salt Poses Challenge for Making Next Six Months’ Supply of Kimchi

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[Intro] Is Crackdown on North Korean Refugees the Best Way?
The South Korean government made an offer of 200,000 food aid items such as Choco Pies, ramen noodles, snacks, and nutrition-dense foods to the North after the floods in North Korea. When the North did not respond, the South government withdrew its aid proposal. According to the World Food Program, a third of North Koreans are suffering from starvation, and immediate actions need to be taken. The South Korean government should give food aid as soon as possible to keep in line with the humanitarian principles. As for the North Korean government, it should accept any kind of aid to save people from death by malnutrition and then ask for more aid as needed. It should also allow its citizens to find their own means for survival. What ordinary North Koreans want is simple. They do not have any expectation for food distribution any more. They just want to be left alone by the government control. Suppressing economic activities to curb social disturbances is like burning down the whole house to kill a bedbug. The more control is imposed on the people, the more they want to escape. When people face a dead end, they take their family members and quietly cross the border. Being called traitors is not what they want, but it is the only choice left to them. Those defectors are fully aware of the fact that they will have stay hidden in foreign countries, and their human rights will not be honored. To prevent having more refugees, the regime should relax its control and let the people work on their own. The cold winter has arrived earlier than usual this year. North and South Korean governments need to cooperate to bring relief to the suffering people.


Refugees Expected This Winter
The Central Party has ordered strengthening border control for the possibility that people would try to cross the border over the frozen Tumen River. A Party official said that the Party was concerned about a massive exodus of refugees. These refugees will be different from those crossing the border to China simply to get some help from their relatives with some secondhand clothes or to buy things to sell in North Korea. The concern is that the Party will lose control over those who are risking their lives and leaving the country with thoughts of never coming back.

One Pyongyang security officer who made an inspection in the border area said, “The residents were barely surviving. Pyongyang officials need to witness the tragic lives of these people firsthand. Telling these people to stay and endure this pain is the same as telling them to die. If there is any chance for a survival, anyone would try to cross the border and never give up.”

An official from the Central Party said, “There is no question about the direness of the situation when even a security officer is concerned about the lives of the people. The potential sudden influx of refugees into China might not be as large as the one during the Arduous March, but a great number of people are likely to make a life or death decision this winter. China should protect them, or at least provide shelters for the refugee children. There number of refugees will increase in the near future, and I hope concerned people overseas will show some interest and support.” He also expressed his concern that even if they successfully crossed the border, they would need the help of the international community in order to survive in China.


Fees for Border Crossing Skyrocket as Surveillance Increases
As the surveillance on border crossing and cell-phone usages in the border area strengthens, border crossing fee is increasing as well. Professional brokers also say that it has gotten much harder to get a contact in North Korean and Chinese Border Security units. A soldier of the Chinese border security unit said that there was a sudden increase in requests by Korean-Chinese in China to help the border crossing of their relatives living in North Korea. Many requests are still coming from professional brokers to bring over young women from North Korea, but an increasing number of Korean-Chinese people, who can no longer stand aside and watch their relatives dying of hunger, are asking for help. An official who had inspected the border area returned to Pyongyang and said, "The purpose of punishing those who had crossed the border, the military personnel who helped them cross, and the cell phone users was to prevent a larger scale exodus by blocking the route. However, according to the officials in the border area, this policy only helps the brokers because the brokers now charge higher fees for the increased risk. Many local officials tent to be cautious in fear of the punishment when caught receiving bribes from the brokers. However, others seem to be bold enough to help border crossings in order to make a huge sum of money at once. Unless the current food shortage is addressed, there is no way we can prevent illegal border crossings, no matter how hard we try."

In the meantime, the search for cell phone users in the border area is continuing. In places like Hoeryung, Onsung, and Musan, cell phone users are getting arrested and sent to the Provincial Safety Bureau. Those who are arrested this time are said to be undergoing a thorough investigation for border crossing and smuggling charges, and their deeds in the last 10 years at the very least will be examined.

Border-crossing Families Increase due to Food Crisis
The phenomenon of family disintegration began to appear across the nation was at peak during last spring’s food shortage, and it has come again this fall. Food shortage is in the core reason for the disintegration, causing families to fight over food, parents to go separate ways with different children in order to keep the hungry children alive or sell everything including the house to pay for food and then get divorced as a result. Many families are disintegrating, and this phenomenon is most prevalent among the poorest. Scattered family members become kkotjebi, wandering around as beggars. When the local party workers find these wanderers, they arrest them and try to send them back to where they came from. As the majority of the kkotjebis come from other cities or villages, it is not an easy task to send them back. If the wanderers are from the area they are found in, the neighborhood unit is to take care of them. The chief of the neighborhood unit is responsible for a couple of these families, and there are usually two to three wandering families within a neighborhood unit.

Recently, the number of families fleeing from North Korea has been increasing. The rationale of such families is that they would rather die together than be broken up as Kkotjebi (Homeless). Since the border security measures in the area of Heoryong and Onsung in North Hamgyong Province are very strict, defectors try to find new escape routes. Kim Young-Cheol (Alias), interviewed in the border area before fleeing over to China, said, “I don’t see how we are going to survive. I am doing this for my children. Although we have a new leader, nothing has changed, except for the increase in government control and oppression. How am I going to live without food rations when even Chinese imports are banned? I have been forced to go to work every day for a despicable wage and no food ration. My small farming lot failed this year because I had no money to buy fertilizers. My corn harvest was only about 50 kilograms. Some of them were stolen, and some were spent for a loan payback. My family cannot survive this winter with the corn we have left. We will die from starvation if I don’t take any action. Either way we will die, so I decided to cross the border. I will ask my distant aunt in Heilongjiang Province in China for help. If I stay here, my children will die before me.” Whether he has safely made into China is unknown, but the evidence that an increased number of families are crossing the border can also be found in a neighborhood unit’s lecture. Choi Soon-Nam (Alias) said that she felt more urge to cross the border with her family after attending neighborhood unit meetings every day to hear repeated criticisms against disappeared families. “I don’t pay attention to the Party’s criticism and punishment on the defectors. The only things that gets my attention is those families who succeeded in border crossing and the family living well with the money sent by their daughter who fled from North Korea. Frankly, I envy defectors for their ability to take action. If I ever decide to cross the border, I need to take my whole family with me because family members left behind will be severely punished”, she said.

Security Agents and Police Officers are responsible for the security enforcement in the border areas. When more than three defectors are caught in their control area, the director of the security agency and the chief police officer get blamed and punished. When defectors flocked into Musan area due to the strict border control in Hoeryong and Onseong, the director of Musan security agency got blamed and fired by the Central Party. As a result, the security agents and police officers are strictly enforcing all the security measures, keeping tight surveillance and executing harsh punishment on defectors in order to avoid getting punished themselves by the Central Party.


No Means of Asking for Support from Daughter who Fled to South Korea
Jeongnim Kim (Alias) from Saebyul Gun, North Hamgyung Province, has managed to make ends meet thanks to her daughter, who fled to South Korea a couple of years ago. However, she recently lost everything as a result of the currency reform. She had saved most of the hard cash she received from her daughter, because she could not easily spend the money knowing what hardship her daughter had to go through in a foreign country to make the money. The savings were for her youngest daughter and son’s marriages in the future, so the loss was more painful to her. On top of this, the whole family recently got arrested and interrogated for 40 days about her defector daughter. They were able to get released only after offering some bribe, for which they had to sell all their household goods. Now she desperately needs her daughter’s help, but there is no way of contacting her. Due to the strict ban on cell phones since the end of last year, she was unable to find anyone with a cell phone. Therefore, she has not been able to keep in touch with her daughter for over a year. The broker who helped her daughter cross the border also fled to China, and there is no way of finding him either. Rumors suggest that he has gone to South Korea to avoid getting caught. Ms. Kim suffers knowing that with no help from her daughter soon, all three people in her family will die.


Some Increase in Crops in North Hamgyong Farms
In some farms in North Hamgyong, there are smiles on farmers’ faces with the increase in crops this year. An official from the North Hamgyong provincial party said that the farms that had enough fertilizer imported from China this year seem to have benefitted. The farms that had a sufficient supply of the fertilizer in fact had more crops than privately owned small plots. A worker at a farm in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong said, “This region with its mountainous terrain does not have much cultivatable land, but it still makes me incredibly happy, even in the middle of my sleep, to think about this year’s crops which we had waited for so long.” Farmers are also elated to see the result of their hard work on an empty stomach this year. However, Kim Pansok (alias), the manager at a cooperative farm in Hoeryong was worried despite the successful harvest of this year: “It is not entirely a good thing that we had a good year while the harvest in other major rice producing areas suffered from the flood this year. We haven’t even started threshing the crop, and there already are people coming in from everywhere to get their hands on it. I don’t know with all these people we’d have half a year’s supply of food left to us.” On the other hand, even in the same province, the farms that did not have enough supply of fertilizer did not have good yields. In Kyongsong county, there are a lot of farms that had a bad year with disease and insects as well as the drought, and farmers are dismayed by the lack of crops to be harvest. Still, North Hamgyong farms are having better harvests in comparison to those in other regions.


Lack of Salt Poses Challenge for Making Next Six Months’ Supply of Kimchi
In North and South Hamgyong Provinces, the lack of salt throughout the region imposes an emergency on making kimchi for the upcoming winter months. An official at South Hamgyong provincial party says, “We tried to import it through the North Hamgyong trade office, but it didn’t work out. Because of the food shortage, we are not permitted to import nothing but food, and it’s hard to get the approval for importing salt. We could only import about 200 tons so far.” The head and the deputy head of the provincial trade office went to China and made several attempts to import salt, but they have had a hard time with finding companies that accept deferred payment. On top of the salt shortage, the vegetable crops this year are bad, which means that it will be hard to have enough supplies to make kimchi for the upcoming winter months. Garlics and pepper powder by kilogram are more expensive than five kilograms of rice or eight kilograms of corn. The party officials are likely to have vegetables and supplies needed for making kimchi distributed to them in any case, but for most others, it will be hard to make kimchi for this winter.
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