‘It is a very difficult moment here’: A tearful letter from North Korea in the midst of COVID-19

July 21, 2020 by Lindy Lowry in Asia

As COVID-19 continues to magnify the challenges facing people in North Korea, some have been reaching out to their family members in South Korea and other countries, asking for help.

Since recently arriving in South Korea, believer Sonyong Lee* has received several letters from her mother still in North Korea. Recently, Sonyong shared one of her mother’s letters with Radio Free Asia—her words  are a sobering indicator of the worsening situation North Koreans are facing in the isolated country during COVID-19.

“I understand your difficult circumstances as you try to settle down in your new life in South Korea,” Sonyong’s mother wrote. “But it is a very difficult moment here. Please help me one more time.”

Sonyong’s mother had received money from her in March; it clearly wasn’t easy for her to ask for help again. But with the cost of food going up and stocks of imported food running out, the North Korean people need more help than ever just to survive in their country.

Restrictive borders

The Ministry of Unification in South Korea has noted that only 12 North Korean escapees had managed to arrive in Seoul from April to June this year—seven in April, two in May, and three in June. A drastic decrease over the last year. During these three months in 2019, 320 North Koreans made it to South Korea.

‘The numbers of North Korean defectors who entered South Korea during the second quarter of this year was the lowest ever,’ a spokesperson for the Ministry of Unification has said.

With enforced border security due to COVID-19, many North Korean brokers’ and smugglers’ activities have radically decreased. One broker told Songyon, “I’m afraid and scared of even making a call these days; there is a real crackdown on North Korean defectors and brokers. Not now, but let’s wait until the current level of security calms down.”

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A worsening economic crisis

The inability to send money affects the North Korean people at large and the underground church of an estimated 300,000 believers that continues to tell us, “The church cannot survive without food.” This money sent into North Korea by outside family members doesn’t only help their relatives—it’s part of the “defectors economy,” which has played a significant role in supporting the economy in North Korea.

A March 2019 survey by the North Korea Human Rights Information Center in South showed that six out of 10 defectors (414 North Korean defectors were interviewed) had sent money to their family members in North Korea, with the average amount of $2,460 sent each time. Without the defectors economy, the economic crisis in North Korea will only get worse— many will not survive the actual illness and the food shortages created by the lockdowns and a crop-destroying drought.

A quarantine of 25,000 North Koreans

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported North Korea has quarantined a total of 25,551 people over the past few months. Meanwhile, North Korea claims that they have not had a single case of the virus in the country.

However, the number of people quarantined reveals the likelihood of a great fight against the virus. In fact, when Kim Jong-un disappeared from the pubic for a few weeks earlier this year, he could’ve been in quarantine. Several non-state sources, including the Daily NK news site run by North Korean escapees, claimed that several deaths, including 180 soldiers and 11 prisoners at the Chongori concentration camp, were almost certainly caused by COVID-19.

Pray with our North Korean family in COVID-19

Please continue to pray that God’s love will penetrate the hearts of the North Korean regime and lead them to change, so they will want to help the millions of people suffering in their nation. Pray that God will reach out and provide for the North Korean people, bringing them strength, comfort, and hope, as well as vital supplies such as food and medicines. And ask God to call and equip our North Korean brothers and sisters to be God’s light in this dark time.

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