South Korean unification minister Kwon Young-se, speaks during a press conference at the Hanawon (Settlement Support Center for North Korean Refugees) in Ansong, Gyeonggi province, South Korea, 10 July 2023. EFE/EPA/JEON HEON-KYUN / POOL

North Korea faces ‘grave’ food crisis, says Seoul

Seoul, Jul 10 (EFE).- South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Young-se said Monday that North Korea continues to suffer a grave food crisis despite the regime having recently increased grain imports from China.

“North Korea’s food crisis stabilized a little bit after the North Korean leadership made efforts for food imports from China. But the country’s food situation is still very difficult,” Kwon told the media during a visit to Hanawon, a resettlement education center for North Korean defectors.

Kwon said there have been cases of starvation deaths in certain areas of North Korea, and the problem has extended to other parts of the country due to supply disruptions.

Seoul, as well as several humanitarian organizations, believe that Pyongyang’s strict border closure in early 2020 greatly worsened the country’s poor food situation by stopping informal trade by smugglers crossing to and from China.

This re-centralization of food distribution has strengthened the regime’s control over the population, but it has also boosted the price of grains in North Korean markets, according to various analyzes drawn up from telephone communications with North Korean citizens.

The stricter border control includes building new fences, increasing the number of guards, and giving orders to shoot anyone approaching the border.

The measure, under which only goods are allowed to enter the country, has been so stringent that Pyongyang has prevented its own diplomats and workers abroad from returning since it came into effect.

In fact, the only person believed to have been able to enter the country in the past three years is the Chinese ambassador to North Korea, Wang Yajun, who took up his post earlier this year.

This border policy has affected the number of defectors who have arrived in South Korea, which has fallen from 1,167 in 2019 to just 59 in 2022, according to data from the government at Seoul.

All defectors wishing to live in South Korea must spend three months in Hanawon, where they go through modules on mental health, daily living and language as well as short vocational training programs to help them integrate into the life there. EFE