Seoul, Jan 30 (IANS) North Korea appears to have increased restrictions on the movements of its inhabitants in the past year with the aim of further limiting the number of desertions from the country, Amnesty International (AI) was quoted in a media report on Thursday.
The regime continued to “severely restrict” the freedom of movement of citizens and “it remained illegal to leave the country without prior approval,” Efe reported AI as saying in its review report on the human rights situation in North Korea in 2019.
Mobility was so restricted – one needs a permit from the authorities to travel within the country – that people interviewed by AI said that “even when moving to another province they were required to pay bribes to government officials, including policemen.”
The report said that foreign media in the country reported that, at the start of the year, the North Korean regime began to issue new identification cards with chips, which are difficult to forge.
North Koreans told these media that the distribution of these cards and the renewal period – every eight years – seems to be an additional mechanism to detect those who no longer reside in their domicile and are treated by the regime as having fled the country or gone to the border with China to attempt to do so.
During the presentation of the report, AI researcher for East Asia, Arnold Fang, said that, the general human rights situation in North Korea in 2019 continued to be “remarkably bad” and added that, in the last year, only 1,047 North Koreans managed to reach South Korea, the lowest number in 18 years.
“It’s a continuation of the downward trend we’ve been seeing,” said Fang, who believes this dynamic is likely to be a result of North Korea and China’s combined efforts to reduce desertion.
The report also highlights that “women and girls leaving North Korea remained at risk of trafficking for forced labour and sexual exploitation in China, including forced marriage with Chinese men.”
Beijing considers North Korean defectors found on its territory – practically the only geographic route they have to escape – as “economic migrants,” and forcibly deports them to their country, where they are imprisoned and tortured.
Although there is no official data on the number of North Koreans residing illegally in China, some organisations have estimated that, at the beginning of the last decade, the number should have been around 4,000-5,000.