(FILE PHOTO) For a long time, the poorest people in North Korea have been farmers. However, now there are urban dwellers who trek to rural villages to pick up seeds or beg. The photo shows a woman in a rural village pulling a cow. Taken by Jang Jung-gil in a rural village on the outskirts of Pyongyang in October 2008. (ASIAPRESS)

People in vulnerable classes within North Korea’s urban areas are dying of malnutrition and illness due to the country’s severe economic troubles. The government has failed to provide adequate support or assistance to people in the depths of poverty, and the increase in thefts and robberies in different areas of the country has forced the police into a state of emergency. An ASIAPRESS reporting partner in the northern part of the country recently provided insight into the current state of affairs. (KANG Ji-won)

◆ Poverty-stricken urban dwellers invade rural villages in search of food

A reporting partner living in Musan County told ASIAPRESS in late February that a husband and wife were found tied up in their house in the middle of the day in Namchon, a rural village near the Tumen River.

“Two men had come by the house and asked for water, but then threatened the couple with a knife before taking all the food and sellable items in the house. A rise in crime involving people pretending to be merchants who are going around empty houses in rural villages and stealing anything that can be sold such as livestock and food has led the police to intensify their patrols. There are a lot of thieves who want to steal livestock and rice mills from collective farms, so the police are conducting patrols every two hours.”

In Musan County, the police have banned men from conducting business in rural villages. Any men found to be conducting business are subject to having their bags searched before being thrown out of the area. The police are also emphasizing that anyone coming from other areas, even relatives, must register their presence at any places they stop by or sleep in.

◆ Chickens and dogs have disappeared from the streets

Crime is also increasing in Hoeryong. A reporting partner in the city told ASIAPRESS the following in March:

“Every morning, there are rumors that robberies took place here or there. A gang of three men, including a former soldier, was caught stealing a cow at the Obongri Farm and put in prison. In Wonsanri, a rice mill storage facility was raided on March 2, with thieves making off with more than 200 kilograms of rice in just 20 minutes. The police are investigating anyone looking suspicious as part of efforts to catch the criminals, even conducting house searches.”

The reporting partner said that chickens and dogs can no longer be seen on the streets of Hoeryong.

“Everybody is going through a tough time now. Owners (of dogs and chickens) don’t want to let their animals go outside their homes because people try to catch and eat them. There are poor people who try to steal anything they can get their hands on. They don’t have anything else to eat.”

After the COVID-19 pandemic began in January 2020, the Kim Jong-un regime closed the country’s borders with China and implemented heavy restrictions on trade. Bans on movement and business activities have led urban dwellers to lose much of their cash incomes and there has been a drastic increase in poverty-stricken people.

※ ASIAPRESS communicates with its reporting partners through Chinese cell phones smuggled into North Korea.