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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past