This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Officials in North Korea’s Ministry of State Security are demanding expensive bribes from citizens who apply for a travel certificate to visit China, according to sources, who say that many North Koreans who work across the border are becoming dissatisfied with the regime’s inability to curb corruption.
A source from Ryanggang province recently told RFA’s Korean Service that he had applied for a travel certificate to visit relatives in China and “received a ridiculous demand to bring back 5,000 yuan [about U.S. $735].”
“There were dozens of us who applied for travel certificates and we all received the same response,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“If they are collecting that much from each applicant, there’s no way that’s all going to just one guy. I don’t know what this money is being spent on,” he said.
According to the source, even applicants who pay bribes can’t be assured that their travel requests will be approved.
“If approval was guaranteed, you wouldn’t hesitate to borrow money for the bribe because you could easily repay your debts after coming back from China,” he said.
“But if you have to borrow just to apply and you’re not approved, then this becomes a debt that suffocates applicants.”
The source explained that 5,000 yuan is the bare minimum in bribes that must be paid for the application to be accepted, but most people trying to go to China could expect to pay even more than that.
“The speed of approval varies depending on how much you pay, and if you pay more, there’s naturally a better chance that you’ll be approved,” he said.
“This is why ordinary people can’t even imagine actually visiting China.”
Another source from North Pyongan province told RFA that while the Ministry of State Security is “notorious for demanding bribes” throughout North Korea, “authorities stationed near the border region demand much more than those stationed elsewhere.”
“Ordinary people can’t apply to visit China even if they have family there, because it’s way too expensive to apply for travel certificates,” the source said.
“Typically merchants and moneyed elites who can afford the high cost may still travel to China regularly, but the average person can’t even think of visiting China ever,” he added.
“People who are well aware of this fact openly express their anger towards the regime, saying things like, ‘Are we even really a country?’”