December 05, 2023

How North Korean neighborhood watch groups do dirty work of keeping cities clean

Groups notorious for spying on citizens also mobilize residents for tasks ranging from collecting trash to cutting grass

As the clock strikes 6 a.m. each day in North Korea, residents emerge and diligently tend to the spaces around their homes and public locales. During the day, groups of women in their 40s and 50s commonly take care of city maintenance. They whitewash tree trunks to safeguard them from pests, mow grass in green areas using basic tools and repair pavements. 

But these people are not employed as official city maintenance personnel; they are local residents, largely full-time housewives. Their work is unpaid, but not voluntary, and they are mobilized for these activities through neighborhood mutual surveillance groups, known as “inminban,” literally “people’s groups.”