The coronavirus ruins trips all over the world, even clandestine ones. The transfer of Koreans from one side of the 38th parallel to the other has also not resisted in the world ruled by the pandemic because no one has closed its borders more zealously than the Pyongyang regime. It was never easy, but more than 30,000 North Koreans have escaped through the cracks in the system in recent decades. But now North Korea and the world are, more than ever, watertight compartments.
Only two North Koreans reached Seoul in the second quarter of this year when they previously numbered in the hundreds. The arrivals graph clearly highlights the effects of the pandemic: last year there were 229 people who fled compared to the approximate one thousand of the previous two years and the almost three thousand of 2009 are much further away.
North Korea has not reported a single case of coronavirus although sources from the interior cited by specialized media speak of dead soldiers with compatible symptoms and outbreaks in border cities with China. But its incidence, the analysts agree, is lower. The agility with which the government lowered the blinds as soon as news of a rare pneumonia arrived in Wuhan contributed to the success.
The Demilitarized Zone that separates North Korea from South Korea It is the shortest path and the most inadvisable due to the density of military personnel. The usual odyssey is to cross the porous border with China, often bribing North Korean officials, and moving thousands of kilometers to Thailand, Laos or another Southeast Asian country, seeking asylum at the South Korean embassy and flying to Seoul. They are difficult journeys eluding the Chinese police that can take months.
But the regime Kim Jong-un has tightened controls. He has ordered to shoot everything that moves across the border and not just the North Koreans, which has sparked complaints from Beijing after several Chinese were hit. It has also executed at least one customs official who smuggled in goods and placed the city of Kaesong in quarantine after one of its nationals returned from the south.
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The coronavirus has been the excuse to implement extreme and unnecessary measures that violate human rights, says Lina Yoon, chief researcher for North Korea at Human Rights Watch. “The collapse of the USSR caused the famines of the 1990s, ended the delusion of a socialist paradise, and many North Koreans fled to China. Those escapes were not a priority for Kim Jong-il, but Kim Jong-un, after coming to power in 2011, took extreme control. The defectors were classified as enemies of the state and received much harsher punishments after being returned.“, Add.
Between hunger and pandemic
No country equals precautions against the pandemic. North Korea he is wary even of the sandstorms that come from China. Fears that the virus will travel in imported products explains why shipments of perishable food and medical supplies in Dandong, the border city, become dusty. The supply from China, which accounted for 90% of national trade, has dried up. Even the capital, Pyongyang, suffers from a shortage of basic goods that has forced the departure of diplomats and personnel from humanitarian organizations. The country suffers from the worst food shortage of the decade, his delegation to the UN has admitted.
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The government faced a Shakespearean dilemma: expose its population to hunger or pandemic. The decision is not without logic because the country is already used to managing the first, but lacks protection against the second.
“North Korea has suffered frequent floods and droughts and international sanctions never prevented products affected by them from reaching the capital. The main cause of the current problem is the closure of borders and its terror is understandable because the pandemic has brought down much more advanced health systems such as the Brazilian one “says Ramón Pacheco, an expert on North Korea and professor of International Relations at King’s College London.
The defectors’ penalties do not end in Seoul. The South Korean government trains them for weeks to adapt to their new environment and grants them financial aid, but many suffer discrimination and lack skills in a hypertechnological job market that is alien to them. Some North Koreans even made the return trip in recent years, and they are of great value to North Korean propaganda, which shows them on television so that their stories discourage flight.
Neither does the political context in the peninsula lead to desertion. Conservative South Korean governments offered generous aid to the arrivals and highlighted the gross human rights violations that had pushed them to flee. The government of the progressive Moon Jae-in, on the other hand, is pursuing a historic pacification that advises minimizing such controversial issues as deserters and has cut funding for refugees.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.