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.
Christians in North Korea are facing heightened challenges amid the coronavirus outbreak, fearing they might not survive the period after the regime banned defectors from sending money back home.
Songyon Lee, a Christian living in South Korea, told Radio Free Asia that she’d received several letters from her mother in North Korea detailing the hardships believers are facing during COVID-19.
“I understand your difficult circumstances as you try to settle down in your new life in South Korea,” Songyon’s mother wrote. “But it is a very difficult moment here. Please help me one more time.”
Songyon said she sent money to her mother back in March, but with the rising cost of food and the supply of imported food rapidly disappearing, the North Korean people are struggling to survive.
North Korea has increased border security due to COVID-19, causing many North Korean brokers’ and smugglers’ activities to decrease. Earlier this year, the country shut down cross-border travel with China and Russia, restricted domestic travel, and placed diplomats and foreigners under effective house arrest, The Washington Post reports.
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,” he said of getting money to her mother in North Korea, according to Open Doors.
Persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA notes that the inability to send money affects the North Korean underground church of an estimated 300,000 believers. One believer told the organization: “The church cannot survive without food.”
North Korea is number one on Open Doors World Watch List of countries where Christian persecution is the worst, a position it has maintained for 18 years.
Practicing any religion that is not sanctioned by the government is punishable by death in North Korea. In fact, 100 percent of all defectors interviewed said there is zero religious freedom in the country.
Religious freedom in North Korea is “largely non-existent” and faith-based persecution has been common place since the 1950s because religious beliefs are “seen as a threat to the loyalty demanded by the Supreme Leader.” While Christians are the main target of abuse, Buddhism and Shamanism are also practiced in the country and “suppressed to varying degrees.”
“Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.” Hebrews 13:3.