North Korea Inexplicably Banishes Head of Foreign Aid Group Despite Country's Ongoing Food Crisis

( [email protected] ) Apr 02, 2015 05:03 PM EDT
Without explanation, the North Korean government banned the director of a prominent foreign aid group from the country.
Throughout the early 1990’s, at the height of the country’s famine, then-leader Kim Jong-il obstructed the delivery of food aid and punished those who tried to earn, buy, steal or smuggle in enough food to survive.

Without explanation, the North Korean government has expelled the country director of the German aid group Welthungerhilfe, who for twelve years worked to provide food to citizens of the isolated country.

Reuters reports that Welthungerhilfe, whose name means "World Hunger Aid", has operated in North Korea since 1997, spending over $62 million on projects designed to improve food, sanitation and water supply.

However, on Thursday, the group revealed that in late February, the North Korea government demanded that director Regina Feindt leave the country without providing any explanation.

"Welthungerhilfe does not see anything in Mrs. Feindt's behavior that would have justified an expulsion," the NGO said the statement.

Then, Feindt's colleague Karl Fall, who had also worked in the country for 12 years, left of his own volition the next month.

"We don't know why this has happened," spokeswoman Simone Pott added.

According to the AFP, Welthungerhilfe is one of the few foreign aid groups to operate within the North Korea, whose citizens have continued to struggle intense poverty and hunger despite Kim Jong-un's 2012 promise that under his leadership, the country would "never have to tighten its belt again".

While Feindt's abrupt departure reportedly came as a surprise to members of the small foreign community in Pyongyang, the North Korean government has a longstanding history of volatility against foreign aid groups.

Throughout the early 1990's, at the height of the country's famine, then-leader Kim Jong-il obstructed the delivery of food and other forms of foreign aid, punishing those who tried to earn, buy, steal or smuggle in enough food to survive. The regime was "well aware of the country's deteriorating food situation" as it stocked airfields, reactors and palaces, rather than food stores, according to a report from the New York Times.

Today, the North Korean government continues to run a "public distribution system," giving food rations to households. However, defectors from around the country say it is highly ineffective, and donations to international aid agencies have dropped off due to "fatigue with the North Korean regime and competing crises elsewhere."

Despite the expulsion of its country director, Welthungerhilfe has said it will continue to operate within North Korea as long as it is able, explaining that activities to improve water and sewage systems in cities were unaffected.

"At the moment we are in discussions with the North Korean authorities to secure a basis for continuing our development work in the country for the benefit of the people of North Korea," the group said in the statement.