Dozens of North Korean female workers out for a walk at Mount Kumgang Park in Dandong, Liaoning Province, China, on the morning of May 18. (©The Daily NK)

Dozens of North Korean women were recently seen at a group outing in a park in Dandong, suggesting that North Korean workers in China now enjoy slightly more freedom to engage in outside activities.

A Daily NK photographer captured an image of the women and a man who appeared to be their guide at Jinjiangshan Park in northern Dandong on May 18.

Some women wore short-brim hats, while several were stylishly dressed in sundresses, blouses with lace or pastel spring jackets. Some of the women were using parasols to block the blazing sun.

The man —presumably an official managing the workers — wore black pants and a shirt and carried a small tote bag. He was absorbed in guiding the women, making sure none lagged behind.

The women and the male official also appeared to react sensitively when Chinese visitors to the park greeted or talked to them. When one Chinese man said that “a group of North Korean beauties are here,” the group hastily left the scene without responding.

When another Chinese individual pointed his mobile phone toward the women to take a picture, the women immediately informed the male official. The male official assured them the person was probably not taking photos of them but told the individual with the phone “not to take photos of them” in Chinese.

Rather than forming ranks, they freely walked in small groups to the observation deck at the park’s peak. At the observation deck, some of the women stared at North Korea in the distance and expressed their homesickness, saying that they were “heartbroken at not being able to go home for five years, even though the fatherland was right before them.”

After gazing at the North from the observation deck for a while, the group descended again and photographed one another with their mobile phones.

Recent outbreak of violence has led to more sightseeing opportunities for workers

The North Korean authorities ban workers in China from carrying mobile phones to prevent them from communicating with the outside world. Therefore, the phones were likely North Korean models that could not make calls or access the internet in China. The women used their phones simply to take photos. They did not appear to make phone calls or search the internet.

The group spent about 40 minutes in the park before boarding a bus parked at the entrance.

Through a source in China, Daily NK determined that the women at the outing in the park worked at a clothing factory in Dandong. The source looked at the male official’s face and dress and confirmed that the women worked in the clothing factory, saying that “factory managers were allowing laborers to sightsee more after a recent incident of violence involving workers.”

North Korean workers have been afforded a bit more freedom, including permission to go outside, since the murder of a North Korean managing official in Nanping Town in Helong, Jilin Province, in January.

The source also said the women would gradually be sent home “within a month or two.”

Starting last year, North Korea repatriated some workers who needed to be rushed home due to illness or some other reason. Going forward, however, ordinary workers will start going home, the source said. If North Korean workers in Dandong begin going home, new workers will likely replace them.

Daily NK previously reported that North Korea began sending 1,000 to 2,000 new workers to China in late April. The workers are entering China through Tumen or Nanping, Jilin Province, by way of the North Korean cities of Onsong or Musan, North Hamgyong Province. As checkpoints and searches are so intense in these regions that even Chinese people find it difficult to access them, the authorities seemingly aim to fly under the international community’s radar.

“North Korean workers who entered through Tumen or Nanping have not come to Dandong as of late, but if the factory workers in Dandong gradually begin to go home, people who entered through those routes might also come to Dandong because the factories need workers,” the source said.

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

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