US Sanctions Forces Some Mission Agencies to Pull Aid from North Korea

United States sanctions have caused some NGOs such as Fida International to pull their aid efforts from North Korea. At first, that sounds like fewer people getting fed, but Eric Foley of Voice of the Martyrs Korea says it’s more complicated than that.

In fact, these sanctions could leave to much-needed reassessment.

Earning Your Way Out of Starvation

North Korea has traditionally kept a very small list of what organizations can bring aid into the country, especially when it comes to Christians. Fida International, a Finnish aid provider, was near the top of that list, and their retraction will have repercussions on many North Korean aid organization.

But Voice of the Martyrs Korea has been discouraging Fida from cooperating with the North Korean government for years so far. Why?

“Because of the fact that it gives the North Korean government legitimacy as being the representative of the people of North Korea.”

“When food aid is provided through the North Korean government, there are restrictions on who that food is provided to.” Foley says. “Food aid is provided to people who are considered loyal and useful to the North Korean government. All North Korean citizens have a classification… it’s a rating, almost a matrix of their of how their loyalty and usefulness to the government is rated.”

In other words, when aid efforts work through the government, the North Korean regime gets to pick and choose who eats and who doesn’t. It doesn’t matter if someone is starving; if they haven’t done enough to endorse the government, no food will reach their table.

“When we see North Koreans starving, it’s not because there is a lack of food, it’s because the North Korean government has made a conscious decision not to feed people that it considers to be disloyal or not useful,” Foley says. “Our strongest encouragement for Christian organizations has been ‘Don’t provide aid to the North Korean government that only reinforces their classification That says to be a human being means that you’re loyal and useful to government.’”

Another Route

The good news for organizations like Fida is that there are already networks in place that can support North Koreans who are actually starving.

“It’s important to note that 80% of North Korean defectors in South Korea have regular monthly contact with their relatives inside of North Korea,” Foley says. “Monthly contact doesn’t mean just they’re writing a letter home, it means that they’re sending money and they’re sending other resources. In fact, the reason why North Korean defectors leave North Korea in the first place is not because they’re seeking more political freedom or freedom of choice; it’s because they’re trying to support their families.”

Foley argues that historically, governments aren’t usually the most efficient providers of aid. Instead, the Church has proven an effective and expansive network, and that’s true here, too.

“[There are] 34,000 North Korean defectors in South Korea and literally hundreds of thousands of North Korean defectors, refugees, and workers in China, Russia, Mongolia, Southeast Asia,” Foley says. “It’s not even a hypothetical situation. There are organizations providing all kinds of aid from medicines to food to financial resources inside of North Korea by bypassing the North Korean government.

These other avenues aren’t just a different option; they’re a more effective route.

“Even if people were to say ‘Ah, if we provide aid directly through other channels like churches, North Korean defector Christian groups and things like that, that only a smaller amount of aid can be provided,’ our contention would be that the amount of aid provided is still much greater than reaching the common people than that provided by the North Korean government.”

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SOURCE: Mission Network News, Alex Anhalt