A growing number of residents in Kaesong Special City are struggling to make ends meet after the city was completely sealed off following the recent arrest of a North Korean defector, Daily NK has learned. 

While North Korean media has reported that “intense” efforts are underway to secure food, sanitary items and firewood for citizens, locals believe it is not enough. 

“Even though the [city’s] People’s Committee and Administrative Committee are providing some relief goods through district offices, it is nothing but a drop in the ocean,” a source in South Pyongan Province who had heard about the situation through relatives in Kaesong told Daily NK on Sunday. 

The people of Kaesong are currently completely sealed off from the outside world, and they are requesting help from relatives outside the city,” the source said, adding, “They are asking for money to be transferred [to them from relatives] as quickly as possible.” 

With the city “completely sealed off” under an order from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, local markets, which are usually one of the main venues for economic activity, have also been closed. The atmosphere is reportedly so “harsh” that most of the city’s denizens are unable to leave their homes. 

“After consulting with the central government, the [municipal] people’s committee issued an order early last week stipulating that measures must be taken to stabilize the people’s living situation,” the source said. “Goods are being supplied in accordance with this order, but this is obviously less than people would receive if they purchased the goods themselves at markets.”

In the face of prohibitions on movement and difficulties making ends meet, Kaesong residents have growing resentment towards the returnee defector who sparked the emergency in the first place, the source said. 

“If he’s already caused harm to his parents and relatives by escaping to South Korea, he should have just stayed there and made a life for himself rather than running back here because he couldn’t cope. We are the ones suffering because he can’t hack it in either the North or the South,” the source told Daily NK, based on discontent voiced among city residents. 

Order No. 205, which was distributed nationwide in late April by the country’s Central Anti-epidemic Command. / Image: Daily NK

The source also described a large-scale disinfection campaign being carried out across all households and public agencies in Kaesong. Local authorities have reportedly been stressing the importance of “Order No. 205” issued by the Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Command in April and the implementation of the “maximum emergency system.”

Over the last few days [the authorities] have made it clear that all citizens must work in unison to carry out disease prevention measures against the virus,” the source said. “This also included a threat that harsh punishments would be handed out if the pandemic worsens in North Korea due to a failure to follow rules.” 

On Aug. 2, Rodong Sinmun published an article entitled “The Most Important Matter” which called for stronger quarantines and the deployment of additional guard posts. The article specifically stated that the job of physically blocking and sealing off all possible routes through which the virus could enter Kaesong  is “an issue of the utmost urgency.”

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

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Kang Mi Jin
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 dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.