A male resident of Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province, who had been suffering from financial hardships due to the COVID-19 outbreak, was caught attempting to defect with his daughter, Daily NK has learned. 

A source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Friday that “the man in his 40s, who was raising his daughter on his own without his wife, was going through hard times and struggling to survive after losing his livelihood due to COVID-19.” The source said that “he [and his daughter] was caught by the Ministry of State Security (MSS) as they attempted to cross the river from Namyang on Mar. 1.” 

According to the source, “the man had been left without any means to make a proper living after the closure of the border due to COVID-19, and left his home on Mar. 1 with intentions to cross the river.” 

Daily NK understands that the man planned to defect through the route that he had used to secretly cross the river into China once or twice a year in order to make money before the COVID-19 outbreak.  

The man had brought his 13-year old daughter to Onsong’s Namyang Workers’ District, an area that lies on the Tumen River and directly faces Tumen City in Jilin Province, China. On the day of the defection attempt, he had told his daughter to arrive at a specific spot by 6 PM, where he would be waiting for her. 

The daughter, however, was caught by the border patrol as she passed by a cave to get to the agreed meeting place. 

North Korean soldier secretly defectors
North Korean soldier stationed at the Sino-DPRK border / Image: Roman Harak, Flickr, Creative Commons

The border guards had reportedly been suspicious when they saw a girl wearing shabby clothes approaching a cave alone in the evening. They questioned her about where she was going and the frightened girl told them she was going to cross the river with her father. 

The source explained that “the border guards handed the girl over to agents from the Ministry of State Security, who approached the place where the father was hiding.” He added that “the man, who was waiting for his daughter, was eventually arrested and taken away.”

During the investigation, the man reportedly confessed that “I attempted to defect with my daughter despite the risk of death because we were starving and had no other way of surviving.”  

According to the source, “the man, who had been caught and interrogated by security officials in Namyang, was sent to the MSS branch in Onsong on Mar. 8, and local residents saw him [being transferred in a state where] he was unable to stand up properly with his front teeth broken.” The source added that “an MSS official said the man would not survive because he made a defection attempt while COVID-19 disease prevention measures are in place.” 

Daily NK has become aware that although the MSS released the daughter after three days, she is currently starving in an empty house because she has no one to look after her. “As her father was arrested for attempting to defect, I doubt she will be sent to an orphanage,” the source said.

*Translated by Vilde Olaussen

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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.