Pictures show North Korea closing its border with China

  • Written by Michael Shiels McNamee
  • BBC News

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There has been a significant enhancement of security along the border between North Korea and China. This photo shows North Korea from an area near the Chinese border city of Hunchun in 2015

North Korea used the COVID-19 pandemic to close its northern border with China, new images from a leading human rights group show.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) describes a situation of “intense repression,” with a “significant reduction” in cross-border movement and trade.

In the research, North Koreans spoke of increasingly restrictive measures.

Human Rights Watch stressed that UN member states must “immediately address” North Korea's isolation and humanitarian crisis.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has stepped up a crackdown on border security in recent years, coinciding with the pandemic.

The borders were reopened just a few months ago, greatly improving trade with China.

Focusing on satellite images, the report shows that North Korean authorities are building a new 482-kilometre-long (299-mile) fence in the areas they investigated, and reinforcing another 260-kilometre-long fence that was already in place.

Taken between 2019 and 2023 and covering about a quarter of its northern border, the images also detail things like new guard sites and the creation of buffer zones – things that further restrict life in the country.

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In this image, we can see that in March 2019, on the east bank of the Tumen River, a major fence appeared – but it was interrupted by a large gap of the Hoeryong Current. Three years later, in April 2022, a bridge was added along with a secondary fence, creating a buffer zone.

Along with border infrastructure has come more authoritarian rule enforcement, including shooting at border guards.

Human Rights Watch noted a 20-fold increase in the number of border security facilities in the region observed, with guard posts rising from just 38 to more than 6,500.

Lena Yoon, a senior Korea researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un should “end the policies that have made North Korea a giant prison, reopen its borders to trade, ease internal travel restrictions, and allow monitored international emergency aid.” .

One escapee, who spoke to her relative back home, said it was no longer possible to smuggle rice and wheat into the country.

Her relative told her: “Not even an ant can cross the border now.” The report says this made it difficult for North Korean defectors to send money home to support their families, increasing the suffering of the North Korean people.

Another person who left the country described the situation to relatives in late 2022, when many parts of the world were facing strict coronavirus restrictions.

“for me [relative] They said people are now more worried about dying from hunger than from Covid-19.

“They are all worried about dying from minor illnesses.”

The campaign also stopped the flow of cash from people in South Korea to their relatives and acquaintances in the North.

Human Rights Watch estimated that by the beginning of 2023, only one in 10 financial intermediaries were able to send money across the country, compared to the situation before the pandemic.

The report also highlighted the negative impact that UN sanctions, imposed on Pyongyang in 2017 after nuclear tests, had on people.

The report describes it as “widespread” and says it has “caused a huge toll on the population as a whole by undermining people's rights to an adequate standard of living and, consequently, to food and health.”

“This has had a particularly severe impact on women, the main breadwinners in most families, by limiting activities in the markets in which they trade.”

One former trader who was in contact with relatives in North Korea said that one of his relatives fished squid and crab and was able to make a living from informal trade with China.

Due to the Corona virus and sanctions, this trade stopped, and his relatives were forced to sell to local consumption for a much lower return, making “survival” difficult.

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