North Korea sanctions 'hit humanitarian aid'

 

New international sanctions aimed at thwarting North Korea's nuclear weapons programme are having unintended consequences.

They include halting money transfers by foreign humanitarian groups working to help those most in need and forcing some agencies to carry suitcases of cash in from outside.

At the same time, some restrictions are meant to sting the country's elite by crippling the import of luxury goods, such as yachts and expensive cars. But they do not appear to be stopping the well-heeled from living large in the capital Pyongyang.

Much of the aid group difficulties are linked to the state-run Bank of China's decision earlier this month to follow Washington's lead and sever ties with the North's Foreign Trade Bank, the main money transfer route for most foreign organisations, UN agencies and embassies in Pyongyang.

With that line cut, aid workers in North Korea say they are left with few other options to receive foreign currency for expenses including rent, bills and salaries for local staff.

The sanctions are not supposed to affect humanitarian aid, but six Pyongyang-based aid organisations headquartered in Europe have issued a document spelling out their frustrations and calling the difficulties in transferring money to North Korea a "big problem".

They warned they may be forced to suspend their operations if they cannot find ways to access cash.

Gerhard Uhrmacher of German humanitarian aid organisation Welthungerhilfe, said when recent bank transfers failed, he managed to keep projects running by routing 500,000 euro (£425,264) to Chinese or North Korean accounts in China to pay for building supplies and other goods.

He said Welthungerhilfe, which signed the document and works on agriculture and rural development projects in North Korea, has some reserves in Pyongyang but must also resort to carrying cash into the country by hand.

"It doesn't give a good impression. We're trying to be transparent, to be open to all sides and now we're more or less forced to do something that doesn't really look very proper because people who carry a lot of cash are somehow suspect," said Mr Uhrmacher who has worked in North Korea for the past 10 years.

Some analysts said aid groups were simply "collateral damage" and that they will find a way to work around the sanctions as they have been forced to do in other countries.

Others said the poorest North Koreans would be hurt if some humanitarian groups have to pull out of the country. The aid groups work on a range of issues from food security to improving health and assisting with disabilities.

The US State Department said it was aware of the concerns of humanitarian groups and was exploring ways to address them.

But spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the onus was on North Korea to provide for its people and make alternative financial services available to international organisations.

Sanctions and trade embargoes have long been used by the international community to put an economic squeeze on troublesome regimes from Iraq and Burma to Cuba.

But they are a blunt tool that can unintentionally add to the suffering of people living under oppressive rule by hindering development and the delivery of aid.

In North Korea's case, the sanctions are meant to stop financing and the smuggling of cash that could help its nuclear and missile programmes. They also aim to send a message to the country's elite by crushing the import of luxury goods.

Yet last week at the newly opened six-story Haedanghwa Service Complex in Pyongyang, well-dressed North Koreans chatted on mobile phones and browsed in a high-end boutique that sold everything from fine Italian suits and Dior makeup to glass showcases glittering with diamonds and gold.

The US Treasury Department hit the North Korean bank with sanctions in March, effectively cutting it off from the US financial system after accusing the country's main foreign exchange institution of funding Pyongyang's missile and nuclear programmes.

Washington pressured Beijing to also impose restrictions on the bank a month after new leader Kim Jong Un angered his biggest economic supporter by conducting an underground nuclear test.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital