US Deadline Forces American Aid Workers to Leave North Korea – New York Times

 In World

“One way or another, this program must go on. Otherwise, lives are lost,” said Stephen W. Linton, an American who oversees the Eugene Bell Foundation, a nonprofit group that has treated 250,000 tuberculosis patients in North Korea since 1997, including those with multidrug-resistant strains of the disease that are costlier to treat and harder to cure.

Every six months, Mr. Linton leads a delegation of about 12 volunteer health care specialists, half of them American, on a three-week trip to North Korea. During the visits, which take place in May and November, they examine new patients and discharge from care those who have completed an 18-month treatment program. The treatment must follow a strict schedule to be effective, hence the delegation’s fixed schedule for trips.

Now, Mr. Linton is fretting over whether his team can visit in November.

Under the ban, American passports are invalid for travel “to, through and in North Korea,” according to the State Department. The department says that “in extremely limited circumstances,” it can consider a special validation visa for humanitarian workers, Red Cross officials, journalists and others traveling for “the national interest.” They must apply for it each time they want to visit North Korea.

Photo

Computers at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology in 2011. The university, a private school financed by evangelical Christians, relies on dozens of volunteer teachers, mostly Korean-Americans.

Credit
David Guttenfelder/Associated Press

Before the ban, about 1,000 Americans had been traveling to North Korea on organized tours each year. Hundreds of humanitarian workers operated there at any given time, with most allowed to stay for only a limited duration. As the travel restriction loomed, major humanitarian groups, like World Vision or the American Friends Service Committee, said they had no resident or visiting workers in the North.

It is unknown how many Americans are still in the North in ignorance or defiance of the ban. Also unclear is how effectively the United States will enforce it. “U.S. citizens are not required to register their presence with the U.S. government,” said William Cocks, a spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

North Korea has called the ban “childish” and has said it will keep its doors “wide open to any U.S. citizen who would like to visit our country out of good will.”

Mr. Kim, the DoDaum founder, said a 15-member delegation from his group had been cleared by the North Korean authorities to visit in mid-September to deliver H.I.V. medication and help treat patients, but the trip had to be canceled. Mr. Kim is a Canadian citizen, but key members of the delegation are Americans affected by the ban.

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