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Humanitarian and civil society groups call on Congress to include North Korea aid exemptions in next COVID relief package

Photo: / AFSC

Washington, DC (May 6, 2020) Today, 35 organizations representing humanitarian, research, peacebuilding, faith-based, human rights, and other civil society groups sent a letter to Congress urging immediate sanctions exemptions for humanitarian assistance to the people of North Korea during the pandemic. The organizations collectively have more than 40 million constituents. Full text of the letter can be found here.

“Despite recent announcements from the administration declaring that humanitarian assistance is exempt from sanctions, aid groups like AFSC continue to face immense barriers in our work,” said Daniel Jasper, Public Education and Advocacy Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee in Asia. “Complex and time-consuming exemption processes have delayed aid to North Korea for many years and are now increasing the risk posed by the current pandemic. Congress must act so that humanitarian workers can provide lifesaving assistance.”

The letter urges lawmakers to include the Enhancing North Korea Humanitarian Assistance (ENKHA) Act in the next COVID-19 relief package. The bill was authored by Rep. Andy Levin and Sen. Ed Markey to spell out in greater detail existing exemptions for humanitarian organizations. The legislation was welcomed by the humanitarian community as a strong and necessary step from Congress to help prevent a potential crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

The DPRK closed its borders shortly after the discovery of COVID-19. Officially, the DPRK still reports no cases of the disease. However, many experts worry that needs are mounting in the country as normal humanitarian supply chains have been completely shut down since the end of January.

“When the COVID-19 situation subsides and borders open again, humanitarian groups will need immediate access. We simply won’t have time for approval procedures that can last nine months or more,” said Linda Lewis, DPRK Country Director for the American Friends Service Committee. “Congress must pass ENKHA now or risk incubating COVID-19 in North Korea – posing a risk to us all.”

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The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.