The tough new legislation is part of the dictator’s crackdown on exiles from the hermit kingdom. Its 25 million citizens already need special domestic travel permits under the country’s strict system of internal controls. But now, those who want to visit areas near the Chinese border face more red tape and disruption to business, wedding and funeral travel.
A resident of North Hamgyong province told Radio Free Asia’s Korean Service: “Since early this month, residents who need travel certificates to go to the border areas must submit a document with their fingerprint on it confirming they will never defect from North Korea.
“Citizens used to be allowed to verbally declare they had no plans to defect, and get inter-provincial travel passes by showing a certificate of citizenship and character references from a neighbourhood watch unit leader, a local security official and authority at the destination.
“Stamping another fingerprint to get a travel certificate is not that difficult, but it is unpleasant that so many confirmation documents have been added, and people going to the border areas feel frustrated that they are being treated as potential escapees.”
The state has launched a high-level government campaign to discredit North Korean exiles after groups based in South Korea floated anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets across the border on balloons.
Pyongyang uses “defector” as a pejorative term to describe people who fled North Korea including refugees who crossed the border to escape poverty or hunger.
The new policy has inconvenienced many North Koreans, even causing some to miss important family events because they did not have their paperwork in order.
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Another insider said: “An acquaintance of mine applied for a permit to travel to the border area to attend his mother’s 70th birthday party.
“He was able to go to his hometown after going through all that difficulty, but his daughters, who are married and live in Hwanghae and Pyongan provinces, were unable to attend, so the party was held without them, in an atmosphere of disappointment.
“It seems they were refused because they did not prepare the necessary documents in advance.”
The policy has affected residents’ ability to attend family events such as children’s coming of age ceremonies, weddings, funerals, and ancestor memorial services.
He said: “All residents who want to come to Ryanggang from inland areas have to make that pledge and stamp their thumbprints.
“While residents in the province can pass checkpoints with only our ID cards, people from other provinces must carry four to five certificates with them in addition to the written pledge.
“In addition to our travel certificate, people usually need several other certificates to move from inland to the border areas.
“In order to get the travel certificate, there are many complicated documents to prepare.”
Family members of people who flee North Korea while visiting the border region are subject to punishments including internal exile.
Earlier this month, 30 families from Pyongyang were exiled to rural areas when their relatives working overseas went missing.