North Korean Christians say situation is worsening despite Trump-Kim summits

President Trump announced in his State of the Union speech that he would hold a second summit with Kim Jong-un in Vietnam at the end of February.

The historic summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in June 2018 signalled a thawing of relations. Donald Trump told the media that he raised human rights abuses in private with Kim Jong-un and it was hoped by many that this would be the start of increased leniency for Christians in North Korea.

But local sources have told Open Doors that there are many signs that the persecution is getting worse. Namely an increased number of arrests and abductions of South Korean and Chinese Korean Christians and missionaries in China, the strengthened border control with harsher punishment for North Korean citizens who are repatriated from China, and increased efforts by the North Korean government to eliminate all channels for spreading the Christian faith.

Every aspect of life for North Korean citizens is controlled by the state. All resources, including food, are owned and distributed by the government. North Korea operates a ‘military first’ policy – the country’s leaders and armed forces are provided for first; ordinary people get whatever’s left, which due to poor harvests is often very little.  

Joo Eun*, a North Korean who now lives in South Korea, said, “One day the food distribution simply stopped. We didn’t receive anything anymore. The government gave us the advice to go into the mountains, pluck grass and make soup with some salt. It tasted really awful, very bitter.”

In winter, temperatures are typically between -3 degrees and -13 degrees Celsiusin Pyongyang. A source inside North Korea told Open Doors:

“In winter everything is frozen and there’s nothing to eat. These days in our province people are suffering with severe starvation and hunger. Most people suffer from malnutrition. Furthermore, we can’t use our heating stoves, because there’s no firewood.”

Hunger is ever-present for most of the North Korean population. A kilo of rice costs more than twice the average monthly salary. Other daily necessities are outrageously expensive. There are black markets if there is food available, but the prices are usually unaffordable.

Open Doors’ underground workers smuggle food to keep 60,000 North Korean Christians alive each month, along with medicines, winter clothes, boots and blankets. Open Doors is raising support to keep this vital workoperating this winter.

One recipient said:

“We cannot imagine how we’d be able to survive without your concern, guidance, support and love for our believers. Whenever we face strong storms of difficulty, we remember that you care for us. Through your love and care, we break through any circumstance, just like spring breaks through the ice cold winter.”

North Korea remains number one on the Open Doors World Watch List, as it has done every year since 2002. Christianity is forbidden and is a political crime. Anyone who dares to believe in a higher authority than the Kim family is considered an enemy of the state. Open Doors estimates that there are between 200,000 and 400,000 secret Christians in North Korea. Of those between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians are imprisoned in labour camps.

*Name changed for security reasons

Erin James

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