North Koreans tell BBC they are stuck and waiting to die - BBC News (2023)


Three North Koreans want to tell the world about the situation in the country.

They expose, for the first time, the disaster unfolding there since the government sealed the borders more than three years ago starvation, brutal crackdowns and no chance to escape.

Under the tyrannical rule of Kim Jong Un, North Koreans are forbidden from making contact with the outside world.

A spokesperson for the North Korean government has disputed the claims, which they said were “not entirely factual”.

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North Korea, for over 70 years, the country has been ruled by one family, its tyrannical leader, Kim Jong-un has subjected his people to extreme hardship.

The regime survives by repression by complete blockade on information with the security services and field tactics at the start of the pandemic.

North Korea sealed its borders.

We now know next to nothing about, what's been happening inside the country.

Sometimes people describe North Korea as a black hole of information and that black hole has become significantly darker.

Over the last few years months, we've been communicating in secret, with three people.

Who've risked their lives to expose a disaster unfolding we've used animations and actors to illustrate their words.

These days, watching and sharing foreign videos is severely punished.

One wrong move and you're facing execution and a desperate struggle for survival.

Free supplies are so low.

People have started dying, I want to live in a society where we don't starve, where my neighbors are alive and where we don't have to spy on each other.

I've been working as the BBC's correspondent in Seoul for just over a year and for all the time I've been here, North Korea's borders have been shut.

I knew these closures would be, would be a big impact on people's lives.

So when I arrived, I wanted to find a way to hear from people inside the country.

North Koreans are forbidden from talking to anyone outside the country, particularly journalists.

There are a couple of specialist news organizations that have a network of sources in North Korea.

We decided to try and work with one of these organizations to speak directly to people in the country so that we can understand what was happening.

One of these news organizations is okay based in Seoul, hello is its editor-in-chief.

I'm, sorry we're a bit late foreign.

So what happens to our questions now? Um foreign wait as long as it takes for months.

We exchanged hundreds of messages with the sources in North Korea, each containing just Snippets of information to protect people's identity and keep them safe.

Until finally, we had enough to put together I, woke up by 5am and make breakfast for my family.

Then I go and prepare my business at the market where I sell medicine.

(Video) North Koreans tell BBC of neighbours starving to death - BBC News

One of the people we've been communicating with is a market Trader who lives up near the border with China, and she makes her living by smuggling medicine over the border from China.

Her earnings support her family, so her husband and her two children before covert life was stable.

I didn't smuggle every day when my business made quite a profit, but since covet my earnings half-haft, it's become much harder to smuggle things over the border and the crackdowns had become stricter.

I try to smuggle but I got caught.

I had to bribe an official with money.

I didn't have and barely got away with it.

After that, I was monitored and I couldn't do anything most of the products in the market came from China, but it's empty.

Now you could always find crane, but not these days.

Our food situation has never been this bad.

Recently, people have been knocking on the door asking for food because they're so hungry foreign North Korea has two borders.

The one with South Korea is closed because the two countries are technically still at War.

It's the most heavily fortified Border in the world, known as a demilitarized zone to the north is a vast 1300 kilometer border with China through closing its borders.

North Korea not only stopped people from leaving and entering the country, but it cut off trade, so they stopped freight trains from even crossing the border, from China, with vital supplies of food and Medicine I work on construction projects.

Often we have to work late into the night and I sleep at the site.

This person, who we're calling Chan ho lives near the Chinese border, with his family I, wouldn't be able to survive.

If my wife didn't work at the market, free supplies are so low.

People have started dying, it's been so long.

Since we received government rations, we somehow survive on what little food there is both hard, not knowing how much longer we will live in this pinched poverty.

The future is dark.

Hundreds of miles away in the relative luxury of the capital.

Pyongyang live the woman, we're calling Gian in the morning.

I put the rice on to cook before waking the rest of the family, then I start my job at a food store.

I used to be able to sneak some fruit and vegetables out of the store where I work to sell them at the market.

I'd use the money to buy rice, but now they thoroughly search our bags.

So we can't make a side Hustle.

My family doesn't have enough food, my husband and I survived by thinking 10 more days and and then another 10 days.


If something happens you might starve, but at least we'll feed our kids once I didn't eat for two days.

I only drank water I think it's really interesting that we have somebody from Pyongyang.

Speaking about how hot the situation is.

(Video) 3 North Koreans tell BBC News they are starving and afraid following sealing of border

It's affected, Pyongyang as well, which you know, speaks volumes.

There are lots of Baggers.

Now, if they're lying down, we check them and usually find their dead.

There are others who kill themselves at home or disappear into the mountains.

I never used to hear of this happening.

I know one family that starved to death at home.

No one came in or out for three days water was brought around and we knocked on their door telling them to get some and nobody answered in our village.

Five people have starved to death in one family.

Their wife was too ill to work.

There were two children were surviving by begging.

In the end, all three of them died.

The official calls they were given was death from disease in another household.

The mother was sentenced to hard labor for violating quarantine rules.

She and her son, starved to death.

Recently, an acquaintance's son was released from the military because he was malnourished.

Suddenly, his faith became bloated, he died within a week.

We had had reports and rumors that perhaps some people were starving, but I had never expected that two out of the three people we'd spoken to would know people who had actually starved for the past 10 15 years.

We rarely heard of death by starvation.

That was something that happened during the late 1990s or early 2000s, but to hear it happening again, you know in the past two three years, I think you know it is taking us back to the arduous March, which was the most difficult period for the North Korean people, foreign in the late 1990s, when Kim jong-un's, father Kim Jong-il was in power as many as three million people died in a devastating famine, known as the arduous March.

The Red Cross estimates that almost half of North Korean babies will die before they're five.

The North Korean economy had collapsed, meaning the state could no longer provide its people with food.

Disastrous floods mean North.

Korea is desperately short of food.

Many now rely on International Aid to survive.

People quickly learn not to depend on the government for food.

They started smuggling things in from China to sell at markets ever since.

Most North Koreans have depended on this unofficial trade.

When the Border was closed, this Lifeline was severed with the restrictions in general that have been increased.

That is really worrying, then, for North Korean people's ability to fend for themselves before the Border closure.

People would attempt to flee the country by secretly Crossing into China more than a thousand made it out each year, but Kim Jong-un has spent the past three years.

(Video) North Korea defectors: Why it's getting harder to escape - BBC News

Building fences along the border cutting off people's only Escape Route people are faced with multiple layers of security.

If they're trying to cross there's been, you know widely publicized threats by the North Korean regime, the North Korean military, that they will shoot people on site who are trying to cross into China.

The government strictly controls the Border using covid as an excuse, but really it's to stop the smuggling and people crossing the river to China.

If you even approach the river you'll be given a harsh punishment, There is almost nobody Crossing.

Now, every day it gets harder to live one wrong move and you're facing execution if I live according to the rules, I feel like I'll starve to death, but just by trying to survive, I could be arrested by the state security branded as a traitor and killed.

This is the hardest period.

I've lived through, the famine was difficult, but the state completely lost control, so there weren't these harsh crackdowns and punishments.

People wanted to escape to China.

The government couldn't do much now their offenses and surveillance equipment.

A friend's son told me about several closed door executions.

He saw each time three to four people will be executed.

The crime was trying to escape.

People have stuck here and waiting to die.

Our interviews, James Heenan, the UN investigator for human rights in North, Korea, wow, okay, it's quite sobering.

I read a lot of sobering stuff, but that's very sobering, very eloquent as well.

This information that you have secured it's disturbing, but in terms of the things that are probably the most shocking, if that's the right word, is the emphasis on uh on the fear in people's lives.

These interviews suggest that people who have lived through different ways of of repression are saying no.


This what's happening right now is particularly bad and in the past we've been able to to deal with it, but this is getting even towards the edge of what they can, what they can bear laughs.

I wanted to understand why the government would be willing to push its own people so close to their limits.

North Korean government has always been indifferent to the suffering of North Korean people.

North Korean state is about Kim family and it's all about the regime survival to ensure his survival.

Kim Jong-un has funneled his country's limited finances into developing nuclear weapons, which are now so Advanced.

They can, in theory, reach the U.S mainland.

North Korea needs to be able to justify the deprivations, the suffering of the people so North Koreans say we have United States as a hostile power.

We have South Korea, that's a hostile to us.

There's Japan, that's hustle to us and nuclear program is the only thing that protects North Koreans against the hospital powers.

We have to spend money, we have to build up nuclear program and this is sort of why you are suffering North Koreans have little choice but to believe what they're told with no access to the internet.

The only way they can learn about the world outside their borders is through foreign videos.

Smuggles into the country on USB sticks.

(Video) North Koreans tell BBC they are stuck and waiting to die | BBC News

Closing the Border has helped Kim Jong-un to keep them out these days.

Watching and sharing foreign videos is severely punished, so people are more careful a lot fewer people watch them is survives by repressing their people by complete blockade on information with the security services and field tactics at the end of 2020 Kim Jong-un passed a law declaring those who share foreign videos can be executed.

Is one of North Korea's highest, ranking defectors until 2019 he was working as an ambassador for the North Korean government.

Um I was taken in for questioning under the anti-reactionary thought law since then, I never reveal what I really think to others, I'm more afraid of people.

Now, it's very scary, especially the way they're punishing young people at recording Pyongyang, the local leaders were gathered to judge a 22 year old man in a public trial he'd gone around spreading South, Korean songs and films.

His punishment was 10 years and three months in hard labor camp before 2020.

This would have been a quiet trial with perhaps one ear in prison people were shocked.

How much harsher the punishment was.

You shouldn't be reprimanded, let alone jail or even executed for consuming foreign media.

They are very serious violations, human rights and, in fact, in the past, the commissioner inquiry of the UN has said that these can in many cases, amount to crimes against humanity yeah.

Despite the government's best efforts to keep its people in the dark, there are small signs that loyalty to the regime is waning before covet people viewed Kim Jong-un positively.

We hope perhaps that he'd rule in a new way, but now almost everybody is full of discontent.

If there's a war, the people will turn their backs at the government.

That's the reality.

After our supreme leader met with the US, people were filled with hope and laughter that perhaps we would be able to go to foreign countries.

We were tricked this border.

Closure has taken our lives back 20 years.

We feel hugely betrayed the people never wanted this endless weapons, development that brings hardship to generation after generation.

My child doesn't have food.

I just want my family to have three meals of rice a day.

I want to live in a society where we don't starve, where my neighbors are alive and where we don't have to spy on each other.

Nobody believes that propaganda on TV the state says we are nestling in a modest bosom, but what kind of mother would execute their child in broad daylight for running to China because they were starving people, including me, openly say that they hope there is a war here as soon as possible.

Only by getting rid of the entire leadership can the people live.

Let's end this one way or another foreign want these three North Korean people sharing through these interviews does support the idea that North Korea is even more repressive even more.

You know totalitarian than it's ever been before.

Sadly, these interviews may be a preview of just how difficult things are for North Korean people.

Today, the covid pandemic has provided Kim Jong-un with an opportunity to tighten his grip over his people.

When he does finally reopen the Border, it's unlikely, their old freedoms will be returned.

The fear is that this new era of Oppression could last for decades.


What revealed the shocking suffering of North Koreans waiting to die? ›

North Koreans say they have become so desperate - with many watching their neighbours and their children die of starvation - that only an invasion of their country would end their agony. 'Only with a war, and by getting rid of the entire leadership, can we survive,' Chan Ho, not his real name, tells the BBC.

How many people died of starvation in North Korea? ›

In the late 1990s, North Korea experienced a devastating famine which killed as many as three million people. Recent rumours of starvation, which these interviews corroborate, have prompted fears the country could be on the brink of another catastrophe.

Where can I watch Inside North Korea documentary? ›

Watch Inside North Korea TV Show - Streaming Online | Nat Geo TV.

How many North Korean died? ›

V.N. Razuvaev, compiled by the Ministry's Institute of Military History, cite a total of 1.2 million civilian casualties for North Korea, which include 282,000 killed in bombing raids and 796,000 fled to the South or missing.

What is the most common cause of death in North Korea? ›

Non-communicable diseases (NCD) risk factors in North Korea include high rates of urbanization, an aging society, and high rates of smoking and alcohol consumption amongst men. Cardiovascular disease as a single disease group is the largest cause of death in North Korea (2013).

Who saved the North Koreans from defeat? ›

Mao Zedong decided to use the Chinese People's Volunteers Army (CPVA) to save North Korea, sending in a quarter of a million troops. The campaign began in late October 1950 as a desperate counterattack and continued in two offensives in November 1950 and January 1951.

What's the number one cause of death in Korea? ›

1) Leading causes of death

By rank, the 10 leading causes of death in 2020 were malignant neoplasms (cancer), heart diseases, pneumonia, cerebrovascular diseases, intentional self-harm, diabetes mellitus, Alzheimer disease, liver diseases, hypertensive diseases, and sepsis (Figure 2, Suppl. 4).

How many children can you have in North Korea? ›

In its public pronouncements, Pyongyang has called for accelerated population growth and encouraged large families. According to one Korean American scholar who visited North Korea in the early 1980s, the country has no birth control policies; parents are encouraged to have as many as six children.

What did North Koreans eat during the famine? ›

Impoverished Koreans starved.” As food lessened, the government stopped providing rations altogether and prioritized feeding the military over civilians. North Koreans began eating grass and foraging for wild food to survive.

Why is Netflix not available in North Korea? ›

The North Korea's internet is just 28 websites. Netflix is banned in that country due to the sanctions US made against the regions and local restrictions.

Are you allowed to watch Netflix in North Korea? ›

Netflix isn't available in: China. Crimea. North Korea.

Is Netflix not available in North Korea? ›

The company also announced a partnership with LG to market pre-paid services in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. As of 2022, Netflix is streaming in over 190 countries, not including China, Crimea, North Korea, Russia or Syria.

How many Americans go missing in North Korea? ›

More than 36,000 American troops died during the Korean War (1950–1953). As of 2019, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency describes more than 7,800 Americans as "unaccounted for" from the Korean War. The United States Armed Forces estimates that 5,300 of these troops went missing in North Korea.

How many Americans died in Korea? ›

Some 1,780,000 Americans served in the war, with 36,574 killed, 103,284 wounded, and over 7,100 prisoners of war. As of 2022, according to the list of Wall of Remembrance in the Korean War Veterans Memorial, killed soldiers were 33,634.

What crimes are punishable by death in North Korea? ›

Prominent supposedly executed criminals include officials convicted of drug trafficking and embezzlement. Common criminals convicted of crimes such as murder, robbery, rape, drug dealing, smuggling, piracy, vandalism, etc. have also been reported to be executed, mostly by firing squad.

Why did the North Korean crisis start? ›

The crisis began early in the year when North Korea conducted a series of missile and nuclear tests that demonstrated the country's ability to launch ballistic missiles beyond its immediate region, suggesting their nuclear weapons capability was developing at a faster rate than had been assessed by U.S. intelligence.

What caused the Korean crisis? ›

The causes of the Korean War (1950-1953) can be examined in two categories, ideological and political. Ideologically, the communist side, including the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea, desired to secure the Korean peninsula and incorporate it in a communist bloc.

What was the Korean crisis the result of? ›

Notably, both the governments did not recognise each other and claimed to be the sole legitimate ruler of all of Korea. In 1950, North Korea launched a surprise invasion of South Korea in an attempt to unify the country under the North Korean government. This marked the beginning of the Korean War.

What was the issue in Korea what happened between the North and South? ›

North Korea aimed to militarily conquer South Korea and therefore unify Korea under the communist North Korean regime. Concerned that the Soviet Union and Communist China might have encouraged this invasion, President Harry S.


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