The Finnish non-government organization Fida International has decided to bring an end to its work in North Korea after over 20 years in the country, the group said Tuesday, blaming increasingly tough U.S. sanctions for making continued operations “impossible.”
The decision will see the NGO bring an end to a €414,000-a-year food security and healthcare project in the DPRK, which was originally set to continue until 2021 and had been funded by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 2001.
Among these projects have been assisting rural communities with potato production, it said, and providing equipment and expertise that has “brought quality health care to 2.5 million people.”
In a statement, the NGO — which holds strong ties to the Finnish Pentecostal Church — said the move was due to the “tightening of international sanctions imposed by the U.S. over the last few months.”
Measures by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the statement continued, “make the financial services related to North Korean projects impossible. Fida has acted in accordance with the international sanctions policy.”
Fida International did not respond to NK News‘s requests for further clarification on specifically which recent U.S. sanctions had rendered their work impossible.
OFAC’s most recent round of North Korea-related sanctions came in March, when designations were slapped on two Chinese shipping companies for helping the DPRK evade sanctions.
CEO Harri Hakola also on Tuesday said he was “disappointed” by the move.
“Leaving North Korea was a difficult decision for us because there is a great need for aid in the country,” he said. “We will have to quit our long-term, well-functioning operations.”
The Finnish foreign ministry had provided an additional €300,000 to the organization this year, the NGO’s statement added: “half of the aid has been used and the rest is being negotiated with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.”
“Fortunately, our project leaves behind a sustainable impact,” Ruut Mononen, the NGO’s Regional Director for Asia, was quoted as having said. “We have built up the capacity of the North Koreans, and no activity has been solely dependent on us.”
The organization last delivered food aid to North Korea in late May, with a shipment of 384 tonnes of maize and 28 tonnes of soybeans aimed at alleviating what many fear to be a growing humanitarian crisis in the DPRK.
That shipment came in the wake of UN assessment earlier that month which concluded that over 10 million North Koreans are food insecure, a report which has also prompted South Korea to send $8 million worth of funding to aid organizations working in the DPRK.
The U.S. government has long argued that international and unilateral sanctions are not intended to hamper the delivery of humanitarian aid to North Korea.
But amid growing reports in recent years that sanctions were taking their toll on aid work, in January the U.S. government said it would work to better facilitate the flow of private individuals and aid to the country.
The months following that decision have seen the United Nations’ 1718 committee grant a number of exemptions to humanitarian organizations for North Korea work, with the most recent given to UNICEF in April.
Asked by NK News to comment on Fida Interational’s withdrawal from the DPRK this week, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department stressed that Washington remains “deeply concerned about the well-being of the North Korean people.”
“U.S. policy is to ensure that the strict implementation of sanctions does not impede the delivery of legitimate humanitarian assistance to the North Korean people,” they continued.
“The United States will continue to work with the United Nations 1718 Committee to closely review requests for exemptions and licenses for the delivery of assistance to the DPRK and expect that humanitarian aid organizations meet international standards for access and monitoring of their programs.”
The U.S. Treasury did not respond to requests for comment.
Edited by James Fretwell