Travel within the country is severely restricted. Whether you are visiting on business or as a tourist, you will almost always be accompanied by a guide and will only be allowed to go where your guide is content for you to go. Military checkpoints at the entry and exit to all towns usually include ID checks.
(Foreign Office Travel Advice, 2013)http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/17/torture-executions-rapes-north-korea-human-rights
In order to try and discover more I turned to reading a book called "Escape from Camp 14" written by Blaine Harden, a must read if you want an in depth view on the North Korean working camps as well as generally twisted view on how people live within these borders.
This book focused entirely on the life of Shin Dong-Huyk who was born on November 19, 1983 into becoming a political prisoner in a North Korean re-education camp. Shin was a child of two prisoners who had been married by order of the wardens. In the book we learn about his difficult experiences through his youth inside of Camp 14.
The stories that Shin shared wit were quite frankly shocking.. Since the age of six years old Shin was exposed to forced labour, suffered hunger, beatings and torture, always at the mercy of the wardens (also referred to as teachers). Through the book it was made clear that the prisoners knew nothing about the world outside the barbed-wire fences.
As a geography teacher I found it a fascinating read as people within these camps had such little understanding of the world around them due to their isolation within the communist regime. This was just one of many aspects of Shin's life that horrified and shocked me. I have listed a number of things below which really stood out: (You may not want to read this if you are going to read the book).
- Shin was born into the prison camp because his parents spoke against the government. "Shin's unforgivable crime was being his fathers son".
- Men and women are not allowed to be in contact privately.
- USA is their biggest aid donor following the 1990s find crisis "while remaining it's most demonised enemy
- There was a terrible famine in the 1990s killed a million North Koreans (and there still is in some parts today).
- The country experiences long winters and high mountains and as a result lacks arable land. Farmers are denied incentives and cannot afford fuel or modern farm equipment
- Since the south koreans and soviets cut their supply of fertilizer to the country (dependant for 40years) and north koreans now make their own fertiliser from ash and human excrement. This is called "toibee".
- Belief of physical punishment to be just and fair and people are heavily rewarded for snitching on people to an extent where family and friends are merely seen as competition for food.
- The country does not have enough power - ninety percent of hydro-electricty on the korean peninsula came from the north prior to the partition. Soviet union stopped supplying cheap fuel in the early 90's. Oil powered generators halted and the lights went out and it is suggested that electricity is only switched on for tourists that visit.
- Elections in North Korea are seen as 'empty rituals'. Candidates are chosen by the Korean workers party and run without opposition. They keep track of who doesn't vote fearing ending up in a labour camp
It is a scary thought that a country such as this still exists! What should be done about it? How does the future look? North Korea will be an interesting country to follow in their developments to a better and brighter future... lets just hope it does not pose a threat to any other countries in the process.