Is Something Happening in North Korea? 6,000 Young Adults Forcibly Sent to Mines and Farms in January

Young adults from Pyongyang being sent to mines and farms put on a brave face in this ceremony on February 1. Image via Rodong Sinmun

SEOUL – Young adults are being forcibly relocated to mines and rural areas in increasing numbers, according to recent defectors and sources in North Korea.

While the practice has been common for people convicted of crimes or who have politically suspect family background, the selection has become more widespread and random, the sources say.

The trend reflects economic difficulties within North Korea as well as growing distrust among citizens towards the regime, they say.

Internal exile of this sort is being characterized in the media, which is all state-controlled, as “voluntary entry” but recent defector testimony suggests it’s primarily coercive.

The practice of sending people to the remote countryside or to work in mines as a form of punishment has been in evidence for decades. That is still apparent in that the targets include individuals with “bad backgrounds” – ie., descendants of those who assisted the US or South Korea during the Korean War or who committed political or economic offenses – and others in need of “cultural transformation” – ie., reeducation – due to poor participation in compulsory activities.

A more recent category of victims are young adults labeled “problematic youth” for watching South Korean or foreign movies.

“The selection is overseen by the chairmen of local party committees,” said a defector named Jung, 53, who arrived in South Korea in 2018. “They use it as an opportunity to include people they consider difficult or who they don’t like.”

North Korea has even screened movies on this topic. “The Girl I Love” and “The Stem Grows from the Root” depict troubled youth entering mines.

Other defectors confirmed the involuntary nature of relocation. “It’s strictly coercive,” said Ms. Kang, who defected in 2022. “Being selected is like being caught in a net.”

Sources inside North Korea, however, say the net is getting wider and the selection more random. “The forced entry movement is nationwide,” said Kim from Pyongyang. “Many young adults in Pyongyang will be sent to rural areas.”

Kim added that, while individuals marked as “lagging behind in their organizational life” or “having a bad background” would typically be included on the entry list, people now are also being randomly selected by the party committees.

Rodong Sinmun, the party paper, ran a front-page story on January 31 under the title “Petition of over 6,000 young people to the main fortresses of socialist construction, embracing the grand practice of the central party in the first month of the new year.” In other words, the newspaper confirmed, more than 6,000 had been dispatched to rural areas and mines in January alone under the banner of “voluntary entry.”

In addition to these young adults, the regime is currently forcing middle-aged women from various regions, including Pyongan and Yanggang provinces near the Chinese border. The trend is causing unrest among the populace, according to sources there.

Even in Pyongyang, on February 2nd, more than 30 unmarried young adults were sent to mines and rural areas, with the North Korean regime describing it as “voluntary entry” and widely promoting it through TV and broadcasts.

“Once sons or daughters are placed on the list to go to mines or rural areas, a sea of tears flows in their homes,” the informant Kim in Pyongyang said.

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