Defections across the Sino-North Korean border in Ryanggang Province continue despite the North Korean government’s efforts to shutdown human traffic across the border, Daily NK has learned. 

“There’s been an increase in the number of people trying to dash across the border despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the government has mobilized increasing numbers of border patrol officers, Ministry of State Security [MSS] and local police officials to monitor the border,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK on Apr. 24. 

According to the Daily NK sources in the province, a third-year student at a high school in Hyesan was reportedly arrested in early March while trying to defect across the border. At least one of his parents are in South Korea and apparently helped facilitate the defection. 

Ten family members living in Kimhyongjik County reportedly attempted to defect across the border in late March, but were arrested in Pochon. The family is currently undergoing a “preliminary examination” by Ryanggang Province’s MSS office. Preliminary examinations include the entire interrogation process prior to suspects being indicted.

“It was in anticipation of these scenarios that the North Korean government ordered that the border patrol should remain vigilant, and also ordered MSS and other security officers to remain alert at their various posts,” another Daily NK source in the province said. 

North Korean authorities have largely attributed the ongoing defections to the border patrol, whose members have reportedly accepted bribes in exchange for allowing brokers and other North Koreans to cross the border. Sources told Daily NK that the authorities have stressed that severe punishments await those involved in such transgressions.

North Korean authorities have also reportedly blamed MSS officials and local police officers for failing to stem the tide of increasing defections. 

In response to the criticism, MSS officials have begun to hold daily meetings with the leaders of inminban (North Korea’s lowest adminstrative unit – similar to a neighborhood watch) and undercover agents about the whereabouts of “missing persons.” Agents are reportedly staying up late at night to watch over the houses of families who are suspected of readying themselves for defection. 

The new atmosphere of surveillance has created a situation where people are “watching each other and reporting suspicious movements to the MSS,” one of Daily NK’s in the province sources said.

“Given that people’s lives are getting worse, it will be impossible to stop people from defecting,” he added.

*Translated by Violet Kim

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