S. Korea pursues inter-Korean “international peace station” for Demilitarized Zone

Station would streamline and integrate customs and immigration processes between two Koreas

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SEOUL, Feb 13, 2019, Hankyoreh. An “inter-Korean international peace station” providing integrated customs, immigration, and quarantine (CIQ) duties is being pursued for the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). If established, the integrated inter-Korean immigration office in the DMZ is expected to serve as a historic symbol of peace between the two sides, reported the Hankyoreh.

“For the sake of preparations for the linkage of the South and North Korean railways and the peaceful use of the DMZ, we are proposing to the central government that an inter-Korean international peace station be established within the DMZ,” said Gyeonggi Province Railway Bureau Director Hong Ji-seon in a Feb. 11 briefing at the provincial office.

The inter-Korean international peace station would be built within the DMZ at a location 2.4km north of Dorasan Station on the South Korean side of the Seoul-Sinuiju (Gyeongui) Railway, and 4.4km south of Panmun Station on the North Korean side. Once the station is established, an integrated inter-Korean CIQ office would set up inside, allowing one-stop joint immigration reviews for passengers traveling between South and North Korea.

An immigration office provides customs, immigration, and quarantine services for travelers passing between countries. Currently, travelers between South and North Korea by rail undergo two separate immigration reviews, with one each at Dorasan Station in South Korea and Panmun Station in North Korea. In practice, the system remains more or less unused, with most travel between South and North taking place by vehicles on the overland route.

“As the inter-Korean railway project is completed and private interchange is promoted between the two sides, establishing an integrated immigration office will result in less of an inconvenience for travelers and reduce the amount of time associated with immigration reviews,” Hong said.

Indeed, travelers on international trains between China and North Korea currently spend two hours each with reviews on either side of the border at Sinuiju, or four hours total, plus an additional 10 minutes traveling in between. Gyeonggi Province predicted establishment of an integrated immigration office would reduce processing times by around one-third.

The province predicted the integrated office within the DMZ could become a symbol of contributions to developing the zone into a “region of peace.” In addition to housing an integrated duty-free shop to provide travelers with conveniences including South and North Korean restaurants and stores selling local specialties, it could also boost DMZ tourism through linkages with tourism packages for the surrounding area, the province said.

The integrated immigration office would not be the first operated for travel between countries. For Eurostar trains traveling between the UK and continental Europe, British immigration reviews are conducted in France and Belgium by British officers dispatched to Paris’s Gard du Nord and Brussels’s Midi train stations.

In the case of the West Coast Amtrak service between the US and Canada, immigration officers from both sides work together at Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station to conduct preliminary reviews for travel into the US. For high-speed train service launched in Sept. 2018 between Hong Kong and mainland China, Chinese officers have been deployed to Kowloon Station in Hong Kong to conduct immigration reviews jointly with local officers.

“To operate international train service on inter-Korean railways, it is important to have the same kind of integrated immigration reviews found in Europe or the US and Canada,” said Park Gyeong-cheol, head of the research and planning department at the Gyeonggi Research Institute.

“In that sense, an international peace station equipped with integrated inter-Korean immigration services is not a choice but a necessity,” Park said.

By Hong Yong-duk, South Gyeonggi Province correspondent

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