The number of North Korean refugees now in South Korea who remit money to their families still in the North is rising.
“Some 15,000 North Korean refugees have settled in the country, and over 6,000 of them are remitting money to North Korea,” a government official said. “We understand the size of the remittances is also growing.” An official with a refugee organization said there must be more than 10,000 who remit money to their families in the North.
Remittance routes are clandestine. Money is remitted to a Chinese broker, who contacts another in North Korea, who pays the recipient with his own money and settles the account with the Chinese broker later, leaving no documentary trail.
Currencies are usually American dollars and Chinese yuan. Commissions range between 15 and 20 percent, according to sources. “Remittances through brokers designated by North Koreans generally reach the recipient without a hitch, but Chinese brokers contacted in China are liable to steal the money,” a refugee said. The brokers handle tens of millions of dollars and are linked to organized gangs.
In the past, remittances required enormous bribes. First a man had to be sent to North Korea to bribe guards, with commissions exceeding 40 percent. But with the emergence of remittance brokers and the establishment of an organized system, the amount of money that reaches North Korean families has increased substantially.
The North Korean won is practically worthless in international exchange. $1000 would be the equivalent of 100 years’ worth of earnings and buys two apartments in places like Chongjin, North Hamgyeong Province, or Hamhung, South Hamgyeong Province.