Defectors decry new remittances rule

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Defectors decry new remittances rule

North Korean defectors in South Korea complained this week about a government move to regulate transfers of money to the families they left behind.

The Unification Ministry announced plans to revise a law to require defectors to receive government approval before sending money North. The ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said it wants to legalize the transfers and increase their transparency. The change “is not trying to regulate humanitarian money remittance,” a government official said on condition of anonymity.

Still, the proposed move triggered a backlash from defectors, who fear that the government’s new regulation could complicate the process of remitting money and possibly jeopardize the safety of their families.

“I have no choice but to give money to family members in the North because they live on the money I send to them,” said a defector, who asked not to be identified. “But I cannot give any information to the government” because it could endanger my family.

The ministry said it would give some wiggle room for defectors by exempting them from getting approval if they are remitting money to support families or for medical treatment.

The revision would take months as other government ministries must screen any changes before the new law’s submission to the legislature.

Some defectors send money to help their families through food shortages and other economic difficulties. The practice has been going on for years, although there is no official estimate on how much money has been sent to the North.

Defectors said their families in the North usually receive around 70 percent of the remittances with the balance going to brokers who arrange the deals.

A survey showed nearly 200 defectors said they have sent money to their families in the North. The survey was conducted by a private human rights group last year on some 400 North Korean defectors in South Korea.

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