(Photo) In North Korea, farmers are scorned as the poorest in society. Photographed in a farming village on the outskirts of Pyongyang in October 2008. (Jang Jong-gil, ASIAPRESS)

North Korea is experiencing serious economic turmoil due to excessive measures against the spread of coronavirus- measures which largely discount the well-being of its people. As a result, impoverished urban residents are migrating in large numbers to rural areas, with the authorities increasing restrictions and monitoring in response (Kang Ji-won).

Begging in Rural Villages

Our reporting partners living in several cities in North Hamkyung Province and Ryanggang Province provided us with information on the recent migration phenomenon.

In early July, a reporting partner living in Musan County, North Hamkyung Province, told us the following:

“The Kochebi (vagrant children) and the destitute are flowing out to neighbouring villages. They go into the fields and dig up small, unripe potatoes, or go around to the farmers and beg for food. Some of them are even burglars, so the villagers can't leave their houses unattended- the police have made residents patrol the village.”

Our reporting partner living in Ryanggang Province also reported a similar situation in mid-July as follows:

“Recently, more and more people are leaving the cities and heading for the countryside under the excuse of going to buy food or to get help from relatives. It is because their lives are too hard. They are asking farmers for food in exchange for helping them with their work. The authorities consider them to be "vagrants" who have left their places of residence without permission, and are cracking down intensively on them.”

In addition, according to a reporting partner living in another city in North Hamkyung Province, there is an increase in the number of people who are selling their houses before leave the city and disappearing. When the police began to suspect that some had defected from North Korea, they traced their whereabouts- only to find that many of them had moved to farming villages because they had nothing to eat.

It is now a year and a half since the Kim Jong-un regime closed the Chinese border to prevent the influx of coronavirus. Domestic movement has been severely restricted, and residents who have been cut off from cash income due to poor business are facing starvation. Although food is being sold in the market, the rice and corn prices have been soaring since June, increasing the number of people with no access to food.

In North Korea, rural areas are considered to be the poorest and, recently, the number of "Food Insecure Households" (those without cash and food) has been increasing. These days, it is believed the urban poor are heading to rural areas as a last resort.

※ASIAPRESS contacts its reporting partners in North Korea through smuggled Chinese mobile phones.