No longer 'traitors,' North Korean defectors regarded with envy

Kim Yoo Jin  |  2018-05-15 19:36
North Korean leader Kim Jong Uns reference to the wound caused by defectors during his summit meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been drawing attention. The regime has rarely referred to defectors in such a way, although has long considered them "traitors who have thrown away the motherland."

But what do ordinary North Korean people think about defectors? According to sources inside the country, rather than feeling wary of them, more and more residents are feeling envious about the opportunities afforded to defectors. Having a defector in the family is economically advantageous for market activities. 

In addition, many families of defectors, who have been monitored by the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Peoples Security, are now cooperating with them. These officials have come to appreciate that they are a steady source of bribe money. 

During a telephone call with Daily NK on May 7, an inside source from South Hamgyong Province said, In the majority of cases for families of defectors living in regions far from the border, the perception was quite bad, but that has changed.

The source described the example of a family in a rural village in Hamnam whose children defected eight years ago after being homeless (called kotjebi in North Korea). Even five years ago, the family were regarded as traitors and were ostracized. 

The defectors then sent money back home from South Korea, which changed the way they were perceived. As more North Korean households engage in market activities and stabilize their finances, they are beginning to view families of defectors more affectionately. 

Asked about this, the source said, Now when families of defectors go into the markets, the merchants call them donju [a word meaning 'money master' that describes North Koreas emerging entrepreneurial class]. They look at them with envy, and prompt them to buy their wares, as they do to everyone. 

Those who have crossed the border are still thought of as traitors, but also as people who live well, the source added. 

The attitudes of the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of People's Security has also changed significantly. MSS agents approach families of defectors and say things like, I wish I had relatives living abroad, openly expressing their envy, the source said.

MSS agents say, If you have something to do at the border, do it and come back, giving discreet approval. They allow this because they get a cut of the remittances sent to the defectors families, a source from North Hamgyong Province added.

This kind of behavior isnt appropriate for an agent who is tasked with preserving the integrity of the regime. But they have fallen on hard times, so they cant rely on the Party, the source continued.

MSS agents often welcome orders from above to increase surveillance on defectors. One MSS agent approached a defector family and said, In relation to the North-South summit, the Party has issued an order making it possible for me to come to you more often, the source noted.

In relation to this, the North Hamgyong Source said, Unlike the MSS agents near the border, those in the interior regions dont get as many opportunities for bribes. And they dont take much money home from the authorities, so defector families have become a lifeline for them.  
 
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