A marker delineating the border between China and North Korea (Wikimedia Commons)

The news that several North Korean defectors were recently apprehended by authorities in Dandong is rapidly spreading among North Koreans living on the border with China. 

A source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Wednesday that residents of Sinuiju were shocked by the news and thought it was “impressive” that people had even attempted to cross the border at such a time.

Other people in the city thought it was a shame that the defectors had been arrested and could not pull off their “one-in-a-thousand heaven-sent opportunity.”

After the authorities disclosed an outbreak of COVID-19 on May 12, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un instructed “all cities and counties around the country to shut themselves off completely” and “each business unit, production unit, and living unit to organize their business and productive activities separately from each other.”

Furthermore, Kim stressed that the military should “become even more vigilant on the frontline, along the border, in the ocean and in the air, and take every precaution to ensure there are no security shortfalls in national defense.”

Afterward, a ban was placed on movement around the country, and some areas were placed under strict lockdowns, with people banned from leaving their homes.

Many North Koreans have been shocked that people tried to cross the border after the authorities imposed such tough restrictions on movement, the source said.

“What they’ve been calling restrictions are really worse than being in prison. It’s tough to walk around your own neighborhood, let alone get close to the border,” the source said. “Under those circumstances, it’s really amazing that people could have crossed the Yalu River. People are also saying it’s too bad that some of the defectors failed [to escape] and were brought back.”

At the same time, some people fear that the incident will lead North Korean authorities to further tighten internal restrictions and step up enforcement.

According to the source, some people remarked that this is no time to be crossing the border, while others complained that the defectors got caught, which just creates more trouble for everyone else.

Many people living in the border region also suspect, with good reason, that the defectors must have had help from someone. They pointed out that it would not be easy to defect without help when not only the border but also the airways and waterways have been locked down so tightly.

“The border patrol’s 31st Brigade is currently being investigated by the leadership, which is demanding to know where the defectors crossed the river and who helped them. The people involved will probably be caught and punished,” the source said.

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Kim Chae Hwan is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He can be contacted at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.