Today we took the metro to hear stories from North Korean Refugees which were helped by the organisation Teach North Korean Refugees. This organisation helps North Korean defectors adjust to their new lives in South Korea, and helps them learn English and public speaking.
We arrived at the location where the presentations started at 10 o’clock. It was very hot this day and luckily there was some air-conditioning. First we were welcomed by the founder of the NGO. He had studied Korean and Foreign Studies and he had been a freedom worker in DC before coming to Korea, where he started the organisation in March 2013. He explained that Korea gets half a million refugees every year and that 30 thousand of this total are from North Korea. The North Korean refugees usually cross the border with China, but also to Russia. In China they get deported back to North Korea when they are discovered by the authorities. Therefore they ask asylum in Thailand or Mongolia. Most of them go to Thailand, because Mongolia is very cold.
After the introduction two refugees told their story. The first refugee’s name was Hao Jun. He was born in North Korea in 1992 and became part of the program in February 2017. He is now a student in Seoul National University. When he was born it was a chaos in North Korea. The economy was bad because their only sponsor, the Soviet Union, had just collapsed. There was a big shortage of food and in that time everybody was hungry. Three million people died in that time. He used to see neglected dead bodies and violence on a daily basis.
He started elementary school in 2000 and he was good at studying. At the age of thirteen something changed. His mother fled from North Korea. After a couple months his mother was brought back to North Korea and thrown in jail.
After she was released, his mother had arranged for him to escape from North Korea in 2004. He crossed the border to China and could not believe his eyes at how many cars and tall buildings there were. After three months he was captured by the police and brought back to North Korea. His father was punished for his action. In 2008 he escaped again and this time he had to do it on his own. He spend two years in hiding in China and then travelled to South Korea.
The other refugee was Jung Nam, who escaped in 2008. He had served in the army for 10 years and graduated in North Korea. He told about the propaganda and mistakes of Kim Jong Un. For example, in 2009 Kim Jong Un made a law that banned all foreign currency and he inflated the North Korean monetary system. The economic system became very unbalanced. Another example is that Kin Jun Un used a whole army division just to set off fireworks for his personal liking. The division was disbanded after six months.
We also got some time to ask questions. Most questions were in depth and some were not. We asked what life was like in North Korea, how the educational system worked and about Kimism, the religion centered around the Kim family. The education system has a lot of propaganda and contains several obligatory courses about individual Kim family members. The Kimism has 10 commandments, one of which states that you never must insult or damage statues of Kim Jong Un.
Some other questions arose like whether or not Kim Jong Un really in is control and whether they believed if unification is possible or not. The refugees stated that they believed in the possibility of other people in control and in the possibility of reunification.
All questions and statements led to the explanation that North Korea is not a normal country and should therefore not be treated as such. It is very hard to escape, because they can punish three family generations for only one person’s misdeeds.
Talking with the two refugees was a very insightful experience. After the talks we went for lunch and a presentation at the Dutch embassy.
– Rutger van Anrooij