Update on NK-China Border Situation

Pass Permit Issuance Suspended in NK 

In April, the North Korean government stopped issuing pass permits for North Koreans to enter China. Because of this, many North Koreans who have entered China, seem to be staying there even after their pass permits expire. This means that they are now illegal immigrants – defectors – and if arrested, they will be repatriated. As a matter of fact, according to a local LFNKR staff member in China, many North Korean defectors have already been arrested and sent back.

New sentencing standard applies to punishment

According to one of our staff members in Musan, North Hamgyong Province, North Korea, the number of defectors repatriated from China in June has risen to 500 or 600. The authorities in Musan have begun applying new sentencing standards based on how long each defector had stayed in China. For example, a defector who stayed in China for one year will receive a one-year sentence. Likewise, a two-year stay gets a two-year sentence. The unfortunate defectors who stayed longer in China, such as ten years, face extreme jail time. Anyone receiving a longer sentence is unlikely ever to get out alive.

Kim, a 53-year-old North Korean defector who has been in Jilin, China for seven years said that she has fortunately avoided arrest by the Chinese police thanks to help from the head of the village where she and her relatives are hiding. The extremely strict crackdown before the Beijing Olympics really scared her, however. Since she was not sure if she could escape from the police if arrested, she temporarily left the village and went into hiding in Heilongjiang. She knew that if she were caught, she would never survive seven years in a North Korean prison.

Roads blocked at both ends for strict inspection

Before the Beijing Olympics, even tighter security was put into place along the border in the area of Yanbian, which is notorious for frequent smuggling and drug dealing between North Korea and China. This has made victims of North Korean defectors. Many of them had been staying in China for a long time. In particular, most of the female North Korean defectors who spoke fluent Chinese and had been working at Karaoke bars and massage parlors were swept away.

Back in June, in Long Jin City, both ends of a highway leading to the center of the city were blocked and the ID of every driver and passenger was thoroughly checked. This caused particular hardship for the North Korean defectors who were trying hard to stay in China.

I must not let my fiancée die

Mr. Park (36 years old), who represented himself as an executive officer of the Workers’ Party, and who escaped into China from Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province, made the following remarks:

“Currently in Hamhung City, a lot of people are dying from starvation, like they were back in 1992 and 1993. I have come to China to save my fiancé, who is my life saver. Her mother died on June 7 from malnutrition and it became obvious that her father and she would also die of starvation. I must not let my fiancé die. That’s why I came to China to get food. When I crossed over the Tumen River to get into China, I promised to hand 2,000 RMB to a North Korean border guard when I come back from China. However, I don’t have any relatives or acquaintances in China, so I went to a church in a village on the border to ask for help. But the people in the village are poor, so the best they could do is to give bowlfuls of rice to starving North Korean defectors. It was obviously extremely difficult to get the 2,000 RMB to pay the border guard, when the average annual income in the village is around 5,000 RMB.

China is no paradise on earth either

Mr. Park cannot go back to his fiancé waiting in North Korea unless he gets 2,000 RMB. He found that no one can financially help him or no one will hire him even if he is willing to work to earn money.

Before coming to China, he was expecting to find a place to earn money and get enough food. He knew it was risky, but he was firmly determined to take the risk when he crossed the Tumen River. However, he has found himself facing a greater challenge than he expected. The strict crackdown by the Chinese police drove him deep in the mountains. Hiding in one of LFNKR’s shelters, he murmured “China is no paradise on earth, either.”

Corn has been completely damaged by frost

According to Mr. Park, most people in Hamhung do not have food, although food is seen in the markets. The price of food is so high that the general public cannot afford to buy anything. For example, the price of rice is 2,700 won per kilogram and a kilogram of corn costs 1,700 won. People are fighting to dig and eat potatoes which are still as small as quail eggs. This year, they planted corn seeds early, so that the sprouts were damaged when the frost came, meaning that we cannot expect a corn crop. He is convinced that more people will starve to death.

Mr. Park said with a despairing sigh, “Unless the North Korean government enacts open policies like China, people in North Korea will not survive. But, we cannot expect Kim Jong-Ill’s regime to do that.”

LFNKR asked one of its local staff members in Musan if people are really dying from starvation, as Mr. Park said. The staff person confirmed that North Korea is having serious food shortages this summer.

Market hours in Musan limited to 6-8 pm

On July 1, the custom house at the border was closed and goods no longer came from China. In addition, the authorities started to strictly limit business hours in Musan markets to only two hours from 6:00pm to 8:00pm. People who have been barely making a living at the markets lost their last resort for survival. They are all moaning and saying, “We’ve long said that only wolves and foxes can survive in North Korea, but now even the foxes are dying.”

Children and the aged are starving to death in farming villages

For three days from July 8 to July 10, no markets were allowed to open because of the national mourning ceremony of the death of Kim Ill-Sung. This was a hard blow to people who are leading a hand-to-mouth existence by doing business at markets. Those people lamented much more not being allowed to do business at markets than for Kim Ill-Sung, because it meant no food for three days. People living in the city of Musan seem to sustain their lives by engaging in some kind of business, but many children and aged are reportedly dying of starvation in Gansong, Jinghwa and other areas in farming villages far from the city.

Current market prices in Musan are:
• Rice – 3,000 won/kg
• Corn – 1,600 won/kg
• Soybeans – 3,500 won/kg
• Suger – 3,000 won/kg
• Salt – 1,500 won/kg
• Apples – 8,000 won/kg
• Sticky rice – 3,700 won/kg
• Cooking oil – 7,000 won/kg

It should be noted that corn and flour disappeared from Musan markets, beginning in June.

Pretty-woman fraud group targets wealthy class

According to the police in Yanbian, China, beginning in June, there has been a surge of reports on victims of fraud by a group of pretty North Korean women targeting the wealthy in Yanbian. Losses from one million RMB to two million RMB.

Reportedly, the victimizers are pretty women from North Korea. They approach wealthy men in Yanbian, making romantic overtures, and then swindle large amounts of money from them. They usually start relationships by becoming lovers of wealthy men. After establishing a relationship of trust, they start to talk about their personal connections in North Korea and encourage the men to invest. As soon as they get the investment money, the women disappear. Every one of the North Korean lovers is beautiful and equipped with detailed information on trading companies and personal connections of executive officers. This differentiates them from general North Korean people.

These women may actually be a strategy of North Korean fraud groups to earn foreign currency, because those exceptional people who are given pass permits are all executives of the Worker’s Party or their families.

As mentioned, beginning in April, the North Korean authorities have prohibited ordinary citizens from getting pass permits to China. This means that the authorities provide the pass permits only to those who are almost sure to come back to North Korea. The police officers in the Yanbian autonomous prefecture believe that the pretty-woman fraud group has been assigned a mission to earn foreign currency under a systematic plan targeted at the wealthy class.

The major purpose of those North Koreans entering China with pass permits is to get large volumes of food. In July in Yanbian, one of our local staff members ran into Mrs. Kim, a woman in her 40s from xx city (not disclosed for security reasons) in North Hamgyong Province. She was having a hard time procuring 10 tons of rice within one month, which is the deadline. She said the rice was for distribution to the workers at xx business office (name not disclosed for security reasons).

She told our staff member that she had no intention to ask for the rice for free. If she is given the 10 tons of rice, she would pay for it in cash in a month with interest.

The local staff asked, “Business is no longer done that way in China, so how can you prove that you will definetly pay the money?”

She answered, “We executives of the Party in North Korea never cheat. Trust us. If you cannot trust, come with me to North Korea. I will introduce you to my boss.”

It is obvious that she will be severely punished if she should fail to procure the 10 tons of rice within the specified time. This means that she may be forced to become a North Korean defector also.

The staff member still wonders to this day if that lady was really telling the truth or if she was merely another worker in one of the fraud groups, telling him a fabricated story.