Are Americans Allowed In North Korea? Otto Warmbier's Death Sparks Policy Talks
Following the death of 22-year-old college student Otto Warmbier, Americans' ability to travel to North Korea could change. In response to the tragedy, U.S. officials have reportedly been considering a travel ban that would prohibit American citizens from visiting the country until further notice.
Warmbier was detained by the North Korean regime last year and returned home with extensive brain damage last week. But he wasn't the only American detained by North Korea. Three other Americans are currently being held captive, and according to the Associated Press, the arrest of one of them, teacher Tony Kim, caused Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to explore the potential of a travel ban in April. That consideration has since become more "urgent" since Warmbier's death at his home in Ohio on Monday after being returned from North Korea in a coma.
While no formal travel ban has yet been proposed, a number of politicians from both sides of the aisle have publicly expressed their support for the measure. Arizona Sen. John McCain made headlines on Tuesday for calling Americans who still want to travel to North Korea "stupid." Furthermore, California Rep. Adam Schiff told USA Today that tourism in the country "helps to fund one of the most brutal and despotic regimes in the world."
The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, and has imposed heavy sanctions on its regime due to its persistent nuclear weapons program.
Vox reported that over 800 Americans travel to North Korea each year, primarily through Chinese-run travel agencies. One such agency, Young Pioneer Tours, offered Warmbier the opportunity to travel to North Korea for a 5-day "New Year's Party Tour" of the country. The travel agency markets excursions to "destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from," and stated on its website that North Korea is "Extremely safe!": "Despite what you may hear," it says, "North Korea is probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit."
On Tuesday, Young Pioneer Tours announced that it will no longer take Americans into North Korea, a direct result of the "tragic outcome" of Warmbier's case.
Warmbier traveled to North Korea in January 2016 while studying abroad in Hong Kong. He was detained at the Pyongyang airport for allegedly trying to steal a political propaganda poster from his hotel, considered a "hostile act" against the country. Though Warmbier's family claims that he never committed the act, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor by the North Korean government.
The regime claims that after just a month in captivity, Warmbier contracted botulism, was given a pill, and fell into a coma for the remainder of his 17-month stay. He was returned home last week in a vegetative state, and U.S. doctors reportedly found no signs of botulism. It's certainly understandable why the United States would want to take measure to make certain that doesn't happen again.