As North Koreans continue to suffer from growing economic difficulties due to COVID-19, North Korean authorities have informed people they may ask for help from relatives living overseas, Daily NK has learned. 

A source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK yesterday that with the lives of the people growing ever more difficult “in the wake of the border closure due to the infectious disease [COVID-19],” the government instructed citizens with family overseas that “they may write letters to relatives in foreign countries that mention their difficulties.”

According to the source, given the difficult circumstances faced by people in both the Sino-North Korean border region and the interior of the country, the Ministry of State Security has been ordered to “quietly” find people with relatives overseas.

While informing the relevant citizens of the government order that they may write letters to their relatives overseas, ministry officials have also reportedly been giving them concrete instructions as to the appropriate scope of the correspondence.

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A view of Hyesan, Yanggang Province, in August 2018. / Image: Daily NK

Specifically, the letter writers are not allowed to write anything of even a vaguely political nature; along with the usual greetings, they may actively complain of difficult circumstances; and they may write that the relatives should come for a visit or that they themselves will go overseas once the pandemic ends.   

The source added that the government has instructed the ministry “not to drag out things like in the past” and ensure that the letters quickly make it to overseas family members after the contents of the letters are checked “so that even just one person can receive help.”

The authorities have also ordered that if people receive money from overseas relatives, the provincial party or provincial trade organizations should take a commission, but the more money the people receive, the smaller the commission these organizations should take.

“Cadres are welcoming the order,” said the source. “Provincial party cadres and security agents have proactively moved forward [to implement the order] and are telling people that it is the government’s intent to ensure their survival [through the sending of the letters].” 

However, some North Koreans are reportedly complaining that many of their overseas relatives have died of old age and that the only family members anyone has overseas are defectors.

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Jong So Yong is one of Daily NK's freelance reporters. Questions about her articles can be directed to