Movement on national census potentially underway

Multiple sources inside North Korea have reported that a nationwide census is underway, the country’s first in over a decade. It remains unclear whether it is being conducted for the United Nations Population Fund slated for October, in accordance with last year’s pilot survey.

“Rank-and-file inminban members (a type of neighborhood watch) have been conducting surveys targeted at residents, claiming that it’s just a periodic census. But people think it’s because a lot of people have disappeared,” a source in Kangwon Province told Daily NK on July 23.

A source in Ryanggang Province corroborated this news, adding that in her area the inminban are often accompanied by a Ministry of People’s Security (police) agent when interviewing families.

“For people who have traveled long distances, or with whereabouts unknown or reported as deceased, they’ll visit the household multiple times,” she said.

“When the family can’t give an answer as to why a family member has disappeared and suspect that the person has ‘crossed the river’ (either to defect, or to work in China with plans to return), they’ll follow up with the neighbors and ask what they know about the circumstances.”

Last year, North Korea requested that South Korea contribute 6 million USD to the United Nations Population Fund in June 2017 to help it conduct its first census since 2008. The South Korean government said at the time that it was “positively” considering such a contribution, but public confirmation has not since emerged.

A preliminary survey in North Korea began in October 2017 with technical support from the UN, with an official full-scale operation slated for October this year.

However, it is unclear whether the current surveys are directly connected with the official UN census project. As the source in Kangwon Province noted, “Natural disasters and other incidents have driven up the number of residents who have disappeared, so it may just be that the authorities want to ascertain their whereabouts.”

“When family members can’t provide an answer as to how or when a relative disappeared, the person in question is just listed as ‘missing,” she said, adding that “as there have been a lot of these cases in recent years, they’d surely want to resolve this in regards to resident registration records.”

The Ryanggang Province source agreed, stating, “There still hasn’t been a proper survey to document scores of deaths from various construction accidents and natural disasters, so they finally seem to be trying to ascertain what happened to those who have disappeared for one reason or another.”

A source in North Hamgyong Province opined that the upcoming divided family reunions could also be a factor in the recent census-like survey activity, with Pyongyang anticipating continued reunions in the future as inter-Korean relations continue to improve.

“Veterans of the [Korean] war are especially old, and until unification occurs defectors are also considered divided family members. The authorities would certainly see a need to investigate and classify these groups,” he said.