A blog by Grant Montgomery, co-founder of Family Care Foundation, a 501c3 that provides emergency services and sustained development for families on 5 continents. This site highlights the plight of 300,000 North Koreans who have fled their country due to the brutal oppression of a Stalinist North Korean regime, as well as those still living in North Korea.
The United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Wednesday that aim to cut the Asian state’s annual export revenue by more than a quarter, in response to Pyongyang’s fifth and largest nuclear test in September.
The 15-member council unanimously adopted a resolution that cuts North Korean coal exports by 60 percent with an annual cap of $400.9 million or 7.5 million metric tonnes, on sales. It also bans the export of copper, nickel, silver, zinc and statues.
The single-lane bridge, the “Friendship Bridge”, in the Chinese border city of Dandong is the main gateway for international trade into isolated and heavily sanctioned North Korea and it has grown unusually quiet of late, traders and businessmen in the city of 2.5 million people say.
Lu Chao, Director of the Border Study Institute at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, a Chinese government think-tank, said: “China has been cutting back the number of workers from North Korea it allows in by tightening checks on potential visiting workers and making the paperwork more difficult.”
“There’s still a flow of workers coming into China. But if there’s a new round of tougher sanctions, no doubt we’ll see a further drop in the number of workers coming from North Korea to China,” Lu said.
Estimates of North Korea’s overseas workers vary greatly but a study by South Korea’s state-run Korea Institute for National Unification put the number as high as 150,000, primarily in China and Russia. They send back most of their wages – as much as US$900 million annually – through official North Korean channels.
Beijing is now close to approving new sanctions with the four other veto powers of the U.N. Security Council to further cut North Korea’s coal exports. When it comes to squeezing North Korea, the Friendship Bridge is where the rubber hits the road. Around 80 percent of trade between China and North Korea flows across it.
The South Korean government will raise the subsidy given to North Korean defectors when they are first getting settled in the South. The Unification Ministry on Sunday said it will gradually raise both the resettlement payment and housing expenses for defectors, which currently is W7 million ($5947) and W13 million ($11,045) per person.
From 1998 and 2004, the government initially paid every defector W37 million ($31,435) towards getting settled, when the Roh Moo-hyun administration halved the subsidy.
Defector groups point out that it is difficult to settle in with the current payout given that they have often spent all their money on traffickers, plus incurred fines in third countries like Laos and Thailand.
The ministry also pledged to create public-sector jobs for defectors, to help them integrate, and encourage more private firms to hire them.
Yeonmi Park is a young woman who fled North Korea through Mongolia. Border guards had surrounded her group of refugees as it meandered through the Gobi desert, and told them they would be immediately sent back to China.
Yeonmi and her mother begged for their lives. When that failed, they tried something altogether more radical. They grabbed the small knives they had brought and thrust them to their throats, threatening to commit suicide unless the guards let them stay in Mongolia. ‘I thought it was the end of my life. We were saying goodbye to one another,’ Yeonmi says.
Their actions, though, proved effective. Yeonmi and her mother were taken into custody and after 15 days were transferred to a detention center in Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital. Several weeks later they were handed over to South Korean officials and one day Yeonmi stood at Ulan Bator’s Chinggis Khaan airport preparing to board a plane for Seoul. It was her first time flying and her new-found freedom had not yet sunk in. ‘Oh my God,’ she thought when Mongolian customs officials waved her through. ‘They didn’t stop me.’
A few hours later the plane touched down at Incheon airport in Seoul. Yeonmi stepped off the passenger jet wearing a shabby prison uniform. She remembers gasping at the sight of the moving walkways – a contraption unimaginable in her broken and impoverished homeland – and the immaculate lavatory facilities. ‘It was the first time I had seen a fancy rest room. I thought, “It’s so clean. Do I wash my hands in the [lavatory bowl]?’’ ’ she says. ‘Everything was shiny. I’d never seen anything like it.’
In April she was finally reunited with the sister she had long feared was dead; Eunmi, now 23, had reached South Korea via China and Thailand.
Still Yeonmi feels she has not entirely escaped the clutches of Kim Jong-un’s regime. South Korea allocates local detectives to keep an eye on all newly arrived defectors, and in May Yeonmi received a call from the official handling her case. He warned her that her name had been added to a ‘target list’ of outspoken defectors that the North Korean regime wanted to eliminate. The revelation made her more angry than scared.
The detective and Yeonmi’s mother urged her to stop criticizing Kim Jong-un. But she ignored them, convinced that she, as someone who had suffered the same fate, now had a moral obligation to draw attention to the thousands of women risking sexual violence and murder as they tried to escape North Korea.
North Korea has upgraded its network of brutal prison camps to add six new guard posts and a crematorium as part of its ongoing “industrial scale” of torture and abuse, Amnesty International has warned. The human rights group has obtained satellite images of the secretive regime’s “kwanliso 15” and “kwanliso 25” camps, which show increased activity on both sites.
“…The imagery we’ve analyzed is consistent with our prior findings of forced labor and detention in North Korea’s kwanliso, and the physical infrastructure the government uses to commit atrocities are in working order,” Micah Farfour, an imagery analyst for Amnesty International, said.
Most of the notorious camps’ estimated 120,000 inmates are believed to be political prisoners, with many thrown in jail simply for criticizing the regime.
North Korean defectors who have escaped the camps say inmates are worked to death in the surrounding fields, while some are ordered to murder their own children to reduce the number of mouths that need feeding.
“The North Korean government is still denying the existence of these hellish camps, but year after year we’ve documented and photographed a vast network so massive that it’s visible from space,” said Kerry Moscogiuri, Amnesty‘s UK director of campaigns. “The tens of thousands of people held in the camps face unimaginable suffering – excruciating forced labor, rampant malnutrition, violent punishments, rape and even execution. These images chronicle abuse on an industrial scale.”
North Korea said on Friday that it had discussed the issue of American and Canadian detainees with the Swedish ambassador in the country. Neither the US or Canada have diplomatic offices in North Korea.
The North is holding at least two Americans and one Canadian for alleged espionage, subversion and other anti-state activities.
A North Korean Foreign Ministry official met with the Swedish ambassador on Thursday for talks on consular access for the Canadian detainee, Hyeon Soo Lim, a Christian pastor from Toronto sentenced last year to life in prison with hard labor, according to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.
The Swedish ambassador used the meeting as a chance to raise the issue of consular affairs for the American detainees. The Pyongyang official, identified as the director general of the ministry’s European Department 2, reiterated a position that the North will handle the issues of detained Americans line with a wartime law, according to the KCNA.
North Korea has not elaborated on what “wartime law” means, although it suggests North Korea could deal with US detainees in a harsher manner. No further details were given, including what the North Korean official said about Lim.
Pyongyang’s Supreme Court found Lim guilty of crimes such as allegedly trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system and helping US and South Korean authorities lure and abduct North Korean citizens, along with aiding their programs to assist defectors from the North.
Outside analysts say North Korea often uses foreign detainees as a way to win concessions from other countries.
The ambassador was said to have been recalled to Pyongyang by furious North Korean officials once they discovered Mr Thae and his family had fled Britain from under his nose.
“The regime has decided to punish him as they say he failed to prevent his own people from going to South Korea,” said Jihyun Park, a North Korean human rights activist who fled the dictatorship in 1998. “…Usually what are called ‘high profile’ criminals are sent to the prison camps,” Ms Park said.
Hundreds of capitalistic markets, each with thousands of stalls, form the glue that holds North Korea’s socialist planned economy together, say defectors who sold medicinal herbs, skinny jeans, TV sets, foreign drama CDs and other goods there to make a living.
Says Cha Ri-hyuk, 31, who defected to South Korea in 2013, “If North Korea shuts down the markets, it will collapse.”
Some political analysts note that market activities are gradually infusing North Koreans with new ways of thinking that eventually could loosen the authoritarian government’s hold over its 24 million people.
“It’s like North Korea has so far allowed markets that it can control,” said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University. “But materialism, individualism and the idea of pursuits of profits are taking root in the minds of ordinary people. So potential forces which can fundamentally shake the North’s systems are growing.”
Satellite photos and testimonies of defectors show there are now about 400 big, mostly outdoor markets, called “jangmadang,” in the North. Items sold there are locally produced, or imported or smuggled from countries including China, South Korea and Japan.
The nascent consumer economy has led to the emergence of a new class of rich people called “donju” — “masters of money.” They usually start at markets and invest their savings in larger ventures that state authorities struggle to finance — such as apartment construction, taxi operations and mining works.
Jangmadangs are now an important part of the North’s economy, with merchants paying taxes that help the cash-strapped country operate, experts say. North Korean millennials are sometimes called the “jangmadang generation.” Read more
North Korea’s wholesale outdoor markets, or “jangmadang”, normally have 3,000 to 10,000 tables or stalls. Defectors say the Pyongsong wholesale market, near the North’s capital, Pyongyang, is the biggest.
“You need more than one day to thoroughly look around the Pyongsong market,” said Lee So Yeon, 40, a defector who said she supplied goods to the market before she came to South Korea in 2008.
To work at a market, a merchant buys a stall and pays a daily tax. Lee O.P., who sold such clothes in the northeastern town of Musan before making it to South Korea in 2014, said her stall at the Musan market cost 100 Chinese yuan ($15) around 2000. The daily tax she paid market supervisors, 500-1,000 North Korean won, was the equivalent of 6 to 12 U.S. cents under the unofficial exchange rate ordinary North Koreans use; the North’s official exchange rate is much higher.
South Korean-made clothes, shoes and soap opera CDs are especially popular at the markets, though it’s illegal in the North to sell goods made by its archrival. Regular police crackdowns have not sapped demand. When North Korean police officers found people wearing South Korean clothes or dresses they consider too skimpy or tight, they often took them to back alleys and ripped parts of the garments with razors or scissors, according to defectors.
“Young women, who are teenagers or those in their early 20s, like wearing South Korean clothes … they go out with men and care a lot about beauty and fashion,” said Cha, who had supplied clothes and other products to a market in the southwestern Hwanghae province.
The markets have given North Koreans a taste of foreign culture, eroded their dependence upon a government that no longer feeds them and opened up a new gap between rich and poor. There is little to suggest that the country’s authoritarian rule has weakened, but at the same time, experts say, the North must take care to avoid economic policies that harm the markets.
South Korea should be prepared for a multinational intervention in the event of “sudden changes” on the Korean peninsula, and be ready to prevent Chinese military deployment, an analyst has said.
Hong Hyun-ik, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, a South Korean think tank, said it would be an “urgent” priority for Seoul to block Chinese interference in the case of a political crisis in North Korea, Yonhap reported. The possibility that a third party could move on North Korea is real in the event of an emergency, according to the analyst.
South Korea must make sure North Korea’s territory falls under Seoul’s jurisdiction before another power makes the claim, Hong said.
The researcher stated there are several scenarios in the event of a crisis such as a collapse, including the involvement of United Nations peacekeeping forces, some other type of multinational coalition, or a U.S.-South Korea joint intervention.
“In the event of a sudden change in North Korea, China would quickly block the border in order to prevent a mass inflow of North Koreans,” Hong said. The move could involve the deployment of Chinese troops into North Korea. “Creating a buffer zone [against refugees] would be the most natural justification,” for Chinese troop deployment, Hong said.
The analyst recommended the United States and South Korea, with support from the United Nations, take countermeasures against Chinese intervention by creating a buffer zone of refugee camps where North Koreans would receive assistance.