The Other Side of the StoryThe markets in North Korea are playing a big role in transforming the country. The Jangmadang and outside information and foreign media have given the North Korean people access to the outside world. However, North Korea is still one of the most repressive countries in the world, according to Human Rights Watch. The government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the situation, resulting in an increase in deaths from starvation.
North Koreans who have escaped their country are in danger. Every year, thousands of North Koreans risk their lives trying to escape in search of a better home. If caught trying to escape, North Koreans can face extremely harsh punishment, including detention in political prison camps, forced labour, brutal beatings, forced abortions, and torture. Today, women make up around 80% of North Korean refugees. Many never reach safety and are trapped in the sex industry or sold as brides in China. North Korean women and girls are at great risk of sexual and gender-based violence in transit.
The 5,000 km journey across 5 countries starts in Northern China, stretches down through Southeast Asia, and ends only once North Korean refugees are processed to safely travel to their final destination. Throughout the journey, they are in constant danger of being arrested and returned to North Korea.
The North Korean government’s extreme response to the pandemic has impacted the people in significant ways: from increased restrictions on internal movement to ongoing shutdowns of the border.
The country became even more isolated from the outside world and the economy was devastated. North Korean people faced shortages of basic necessities, and there have been multiple reports of death from starvation. Because of the extreme border lockdowns and the unprecedented levels of restrictions, it became nearly impossible for North Koreans to not only escape their country, but also to travel through China. North Korean women in China, who had been there for years after being trafficked and sold into forced marriages, were even more trapped than before with no way to escape.
Activists are now calling this the “New Dark Age of North Korea” as the North Korean people are facing even more hardship than before and we know less than ever about what’s going on inside.