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A surprising number of North Korean refugees send money home

IN FEBRUARY 2018 Jessie Kim found out that she had been sending money to a dead man. Ms Kim, now a 27-year-old student in Seoul, fled North Korea for China in 2011. She had been sending her father in Yanggang province in the North around $1,000 a year since she arrived in South Korea in early 2014. Two years later she doubled the contributions, working several part-time jobs, after her aunt told her that her father had been in an accident and needed money for medical bills. But another call from her aunt last winter, claiming that her father was asking for yet more money, made her suspicious. “He wasn’t the kind of man to ask his daughter for money,” she says. Ms Kim made enquiries through the broker who had facilitated the transactions. She eventually found out that her father had died in the accident in 2016 and that the money had gone to her aunt’s family instead.Ms Kim’s case illustrates the pitfalls of supporting relatives in a country that is all but cut off from global communications and financial-services networks. Ordinary North Koreans are not allowed to receive money or even phone calls from abroad. Foreign banks are hesitant to handle any transaction associated with the North, for fear of falling foul of sanctions, intended to curtail its nuclear programme, that have been imposed by America and others.
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