March 08, 2012 13:14
North Koreans continue to escape across the border to China despite stricter controls in the wake of global uproar about the looming repatriation of defectors by Beijing, activist group Good Friends said Wednesday.
The group said a five-member family from Musan, North Hamgyong Province suddenly disappeared on Feb. 17. Although the entire border nearby was shut down and searched, nobody was able to find them. Five days later, a worker at a cooperative farm in Onsong, North Hamgyong Province was arrested for crossing the river, and another person was arrested in China after making it across. On Feb. 23, two women who tried to cross the river from Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province were arrested as well.
The North Korean regime reshuffled border guards last month in an attempt to sever links between corrupt guards and people smugglers. A source said, "Because of the current sensitive situation with tensions over the repatriation of North Korean refugees, the border between North Korea and China is extremely heavily guarded. It's impossible to even think about trying to leave the North."
Experts say that the number of escape attempts remains roughly the same suggests the new regime led by Kim Jong-un is even more brutal than his father Kim Jong-il's.
One defector who held a senior position in the North said, "The North Korean regime is pushing people to construction sites and robbing them of their hard-earned foreign currency" in order to prepare for the centenary of regime founder Kim Il-sung in April.
A researcher at a state-run research institute said, "Poverty is a major factor pushing people out of the country. The underground economy is booming and disparity in wealth has intensified in North Korea. The poorest of the poor, who had a glimmer of hope after the death of Kim Jong-il, now see their hopes thwarted and eventually decide to leave."
Good Friends said the food shortage is getting worse, with some people saying it is even worse than the famine of the late 1990s. North Korea needs 5 million tons of food a year but only manages to produce 4 million tons. During the famine, food production fell below 3 million tons due to poor harvests and mismanagement.
But a Unification Ministry official said, "There are no signs indicating that the food situation has got a lot worse in recent months. In fact, the North had pretty decent harvests two years in a row, and the food shortage has been alleviated to a degree. It seems mostly true that North Koreans escape for economic reasons, but it can't be solely because of a food shortage."
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