The law provides for the “freedom to reside in or travel to any place”; however, the government did not respect this right. The government continued to control internal travel carefully. The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons.
In-country Movement: The government continued to restrict freedom to move within the country. Only members of a very small elite class and those with access to remittances from overseas reportedly had access to personal vehicles. A lack of infrastructure hampered movement, as did security checkpoints on main roads at entry and exit points from every town.
The government strictly controlled permission to reside in, or even to enter, Pyongyang, where food availability, housing, health, and general living conditions were much better than in the rest of the country. Foreign officials visiting the country observed checkpoints on the highway leading into Pyongyang.
Foreign Travel: The government also restricted foreign travel. The government limited issuance of exit visas for foreign travel to officials and trusted businessmen, artists, athletes, academics, and workers. Short-term exit papers were available on a very limited basis for some residents to visit with relatives, for short-term work opportunities, or to engage in small-scale trade.
Exile: The government reportedly forced the internal exile of some citizens. In the past it forcibly resettled tens of thousands of persons from Pyongyang to the countryside. Sometimes this occurred as punishment for offenses and included those judged to be politically unreliable based on the social status of their family members.
Emigration and Repatriation: The government did not allow emigration, and reports stated that it continued severe, tight security on the border, dramatically limiting the flow of persons crossing into China without required permits. NGOs reported strict patrols and surveillance of residents of border areas and a crackdown on border guards who may have been aiding border crossers in return for bribes.
Reports suggested that the number of North Koreans living illegally in northeastern China declined in recent years. News reports in 2013 stated that Chinese authorities installed additional miles of barbed-wire fencing along the Tumen River that divides China from North Korea, making it more difficult for North Koreans to cross into China. News reports in May stated that the DPRK had erected additional barbed-wire fencing on the North Korean side of the Tumen River.
The South Korean press reported that the government issued orders for guards to shoot to kill those attempting to leave without official sanction. NGOs reported that Kim Jong Un called for stricter punishments for those suspected of illegal border crossing. The law criminalizes defection and attempted defection, including the attempt to gain entry to a foreign diplomatic facility for the purpose of seeking political asylum. Individuals who cross the border with the purpose of defecting or seeking asylum in a third country are subject to a minimum of five years of “labor correction.” In “serious” cases defectors or asylum seekers are subjected to indefinite terms of imprisonment and forced labor, confiscation of property, or death. Many would-be refugees who were returned involuntarily were imprisoned under harsh conditions. Some sources indicated that authorities reserved particularly harsh treatment for those who had extensive contact with foreigners, including those with family members resettled in South Korea.
Past reports from defectors noted that the government differentiated between persons who crossed the border in search of food (who might be sentenced only to a few months of forced labor or in some cases merely issued a warning) and persons who crossed repeatedly or for political purposes (who were sometimes sentenced to harsh punishment, including death). The law stipulates a sentence of up to two years of “labor correction” for the crime of illegally crossing the border.
The government subjected repatriated refugees to harsh punishments, including imprisonment. The government reportedly continued to enforce the policy that all border crossers be sent to prison or re-education centers.
In November media reported that in October Vietnamese authorities transferred nine North Korean asylum seekers to Chinese authorities to be repatriated to the DPRK. The group had been detained while transiting through Vietnam on their way to a third country. As of December the nine remained in detention in China.
According to the ROK Ministry of Unification, the ROK resettled 1,277 DPRK defectors, compared with 1,396 in 2014--a decline of 8 percent. The media and NGOs attributed the continuing decline to strengthened DPRK border controls. While the overall number of defectors has been decreasing, the media reported an increase in the number of senior DPRK officials who have defected. According to South Korean media reports, the National Intelligence Service disclosed on October 20 to the Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly that 46 members of the North Korean elite fled from North Korea in the past three years.
Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, nor has the government established a system for providing protection for refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum. The government had no known policy or provision for refugees or asylees and did not participate in international refugee fora.