North Korean capital Pyongyang cracks down on citizens illegally moving downtown

The city center offers perks for privileged elites, but outsiders try to buy their way in.
By Hyemin Son
2022.03.28
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North Korean capital Pyongyang cracks down on citizens illegally moving downtown FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks walk amid concerns over the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Pyongyang, North Korea May 15, 2020, in this photo released by Kyodo.
Kyodo/via REUTERS

Authorities in the North Korean capital Pyongyang are on the look-out for residents who have illegally moved from the city’s outskirts to downtown in search of the good life, sources told RFA.

Living in the capital is a privilege that affords residents better education and career opportunities, access to better food and medical care, and an overall better standard of living than their countrymen confined to the provinces.

Only the most residents deemed to be the most loyal — often those who are the most generous with their donations to the party — are issued permits to reside in Pyongyang.

But even within the capital itself, the gap between the haves and have nots depends on how close their homes are to the city center, and North Korean investigators are searching for residents who don’t belong in the city center, so-called “410ers.”

“The investigation is being conducted in accordance with instructions from the Central Committee to rectify the administrative order in the central district of Pyongyang, where the head office is located,” a resident of the city told RFA’s Korean Service March 22.

“As a result of the investigation, citizens designated as 410ers must return to their original residences on the outskirts of Pyongyang,” she said.

The source said that in her Potonggang district apartment near the city’s center, a resident was discovered to be a 410er from farther out Sadong district, and he was evicted.

“People who live in [the outskirts] cannot enter the city center. When they move to ‘the city’ they belong to the 410 category. … Just as the provincial people cannot live in Pyongyang, 410ers cannot live in the city center,” the source said.

The source said that Pyongyang citizens with residences outside the 10 central districts may have the same Pyongyang residence card, but they are essentially lower-class citizens.

Another Pyongyang resident told RFA the same day that she knew of a 410er who illegally bought an apartment downtown in Songyo district.

“He got caught by the authorities and evicted to his original residence. They confiscated his apartment,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

“But if you officially donate more than U.S. $10,000 in ‘loyalty funds’ to the Pyongyang People’s Committee, you will be allowed to live in the city center even if you are a No. 410 subject,” she said.

A third Pyongyang resident explained to RFA that the classification of people as No. 410 subjects dates back to the era when Kim Il Sung, the current leader Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, was in power.

“Some of the citizens of the outskirts of Pyongyang officially donate their loyalty funds and live in the central area if they can afford it. But, if they don’t have much money, they pay about $2,000 in bribes to law enforcement and People’s Committee officials and move to a central area to live,” she said on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.

“Now the authorities are trying to restore order in the central area and expelling 410s who have moved in illegally by paying bribes. The citizens are angry and complain that the authorities are trying to enforce the separation of the upper and lower classes,” she said.

Housing prices in the city center are 10 times as high as they are in the outskirts, reflecting the gap the availability of necessities like electricity and food, the third source explained.

All Pyongyang citizens receive basic food supplies each month, but central city residents get luxuries like sugar, oil and eggs in their rations.

Translated by Claire Lee. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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