Rumors of Exile Keep Defector Families on Edge

There is a rumor circulating in border regions of North
Korea that the authorities are planning to send families of defectors into exile
in rural interior regions. The rumor, which is keeping nerves on edge, is spreading at the end of an
extended period of abnormal official steps to stem the flow of both defections
and other illicit cross-border movements.

“Recently everyone has been talking about this story that
defector families are about to be sent away, so households connected to
defectors abroad are deeply anxious,” a source in Yangkang Province reported to
Daily NK on the 17th. “Everyone seems like they are trying
particularly hard in their people’s units, Women’s Union sections and

At the beginning of this year, investigation teams made up
of Ministry of People’s Security (MPS) cadres and students affiliated with a
Ministry-run university were deployed along the border to conduct broad
crackdowns against illegal acts including defection. The latest rumor appears to stem from the notion that families of defectors will be cast into internal exile as the
inspection period reaches its conclusion.

“There has been no actual evidence however; it’s just a rumor
at this stage,” the source noted. “Nevertheless, families of defectors are cautious to avoid becoming an example to others at times like this. They stay particularly
active in political events, thinking of it as a wise move to be seen performing

“During this unusual investigation period the security services
have been patrolling local areas day and night, and this has made it difficult
for people to share information. Since it’s regarded as suspicious when a
number of people gather in any one place, some households have even been sharing
information by landline.

The source estimates that the actual likelihood of the rumor
manifesting itself as fact is low, however, given its practicality. 

“If ‘families
of defectors were all to be sent into exile, this would mean most of the
people in the border regions being banished, and that is impossible. People
say that the state would only cause itself harm, because even if they banished
us and brought in people from other regions, that would only mean a rise in the number of different defectors. People are trying hard not to believe the
stories. ” 

However, “They may yet banish some families as an example to

On this, a defector originally from Hoeryeong told Daily NK
today, “At the end of last month I had a call from my father, who told me not
to call him until at least the end of March even if I am curious about the news
from home. These days there is word going round that even talking on the phone
can be risky to life […] Controls have gotten so harsh, and families of
defectors may be suffering harassment. 

Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to