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"I Was a Broker" (8)
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2016-01-26 11:07:46
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"I Was a Broker" (8)  

 

RYU Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000

 

  

The most anxious time I ever spent with North Korean refugees was the time during February 2006. Around early January, I participated in Association of NK Defectors in preparation for unification, and had been intending to enter China the next day. However, a pastor asked me to help some refugees needed to leave China right away. I replied that there was a group consisting of 7-8 refugees that were scheduled to leave on January and that the earliest I could help him was in March. This was because I had to reapply for a Chinese Visa in February. He listened to me and replied that there were three refugees that needed to get out, as soon as possible, no matter what.  He explained the reason why. However, I rare broke a promise I made to refugees and if I had added more refugees to the group that was ready to leave in January, the refugees would lose their trust in me. I told the pastor that I would try my best and asked him to prepare 1000 Chinese Won per each refugee. I was having a difficult time day to day due to economic difficulties and so starting on New Years Day 2007; I had been asking missionaries or human rights movements to prepare 1000 won before sending them to me in order to relieve some economic stress. I would help refugees that I had been previously protecting, free of charge. The pastor reassured me that I didn’t need to worry about money and that he would pray for me always. 

 

When I arrived in Yanbian, I had no time to rest. I took the group of defectors who were ready, and we set out for Mongolia. Everything went smoothly and all was successful. The problem was the group in February. I had to get them to Mongolia but if my Chinese visa was not renewed smoothly, I might never even be allowed back in China. It would be almost suicidal of me to apply for a visa back in South Korea. Yet, there were many refugees that wanted to get to China, yet the Chinese government refused to issue visas. I probably wouldn’t be the exception. So far, I had freely walked in and out of China with a one-year complex visa but I couldn’t see that continuing to happen.  There was no choice. If I went through with a risky plan I had, it would take at least 23 days. In regards to everyday life, February seemed far away. However, I did not help refugees just because I had some money. I didn’t help them until every factor had been taken care of and everything had been prepared down to the last details. 

 

According to this, if I did not have enough time, then I never risked it. If I entered South Korea, there were no guarantees that I would be able to make it back to China, yet Simsu Travel Agency appeared safe. Simsu was a city across from Hong Kong, and waves of liberal revolution were flowing in to the city. The city was modernized and I had a reply from the Qingdao Chinese Public Security that I could get my visa extended. I sent my passport to Simsu through EMS express delivery. I was worried that my passport would fall into someone else’s hands and that it might be used for criminal and illegal purposes. I was worried and anxious the entire time my passport was away from me. There was nothing I could do until the visa returned to me, extended. 

 

In the group that was scheduled to leave in February, three were graduates from the Border Guard and did not know any Chinese. They had only studied the bible. In order to help the February venture, I had a woman who was almost fluent in Chinese join the February team even though she was scheduled to leave in January. The team was almost ready with supplies, and they had emotionally prepared themselves. Yet, I had yet to hear back on the status of my visa. Even while preparing several things, my mind was preoccupied with the status of my visa. I kept repeatedly thinking to myself, “This matter must work out. My passport must be in my hands by February 15th in the latest.” There were two shelters that were waiting for my OK…how anxious must they be? Everyday I waited nervously, yet my passport returned to me safely, two days earlier than I expected. I had a good feeling that everything would now proceed smoothly. In the past, I had helped a group get to Mongolia on Christmas day and also on Kim Jung-Il’s birthday. It was a way for me to give them a meaningful present: a chance to live up to their full potentials in South Korea and become future leaders in overturning Kim Jung-Il’s dictatorship. 

 

Last year, the new year fell on February 18th on the Lunar Calendar. I had intended to help a few defectors cross the border on that day yet the person who was protecting them objected. He insisted that there would be especially high across the China border. However, I had no other option. It wasn’t because I was being stubborn. I thought that if we missed this date, it might become even more dangerous for refugees to cross the Chinese border to Mongolia. There was no way for me to push back our departure date. I gathered the refugees who were scattered between two shelters to one place. I had instructed them on our escape route starting about a month ago and I made sure that they memorized the route maps. I had taught them how to read a compass and I checked on the status of their shelter. They had experience crossing the Tumen River from the Border Guard several times so I wasn’t too worried. It turned out they were pleased with the date I had chosen and were filled with confidence. Confidence was the key to success. Everything seemed to be going according to our plans. I was set to depart from Yeongil on February 16th, and I explained to them the reason behind our departure date. 

 

I continued to divide the defectors into two groups and explained how to leave the house and get on the bus in great detail. C missionary prayed for us before we left. His prayer is unique in that he believes that the power of our prayers and believes that we are already in South Korea. I held nothing but deep respect for the missionary who did such ethical work for the defectors in this land. I silently thanked him for protecting our refugees with love and for teaching them the word of the Lord. We took the two cars that were prepared for us and drove to the vicinity of the bus station. K went on the bus to see what kind of passengers were on there and then came back to tell us the situation. We had expected there to be many travelers since it was the Lunar New Year. As a result, we had bought bus seats on the lower floor. Five minutes before the bus was set to depart, we parked our sedans near the bus and instructed the refugees to get on the bus.  It would be better if they were all women, but three men would arouse suspicion. Catching the attentions of the other travelers would lead to unfortunate situations. Things would get easier as soon as we got out of Yeongil. Yianbian had too many blood and tears of refugees that attempted to pass through. We were finally leaving this place behind. 

 

 When we had returned to Changchun station and arrived at Yellow River bus station, it was near 4 am. There were many Chinese people in front of the station, wearing colorful clothes with small sacks. They were waiting for the waiting room in the bus station to open. I instructed my party to wait away from the crowd in their little groups. I told them to enter the bus station through entrance B on the second floor once the station opened. I took Mrs. Cho (who I was meant to help in January) to the station entrance and we made our way to the front crowd. We waited for the station to open. It was a cold early winter morning yet it was impossible to take a step around the station entrance because there were so many travelers. Even though we had made it to the front, we were fenced in by the sheer mass of people. It was difficult to stand. It reminded of the time in North Korea when people were pushing and pulling each other to get on the bus. I told Mrs. Cho that as soon as the door opened, I would buy four tickets on the second floor of the building and the she should buy 4 tickets right behind me. As soon as the doors opened at 5 am, we hurried into the second floor of the building to buy tickets to Tongliao. Before, with the sheer number of people outside, I had wondered who were going to buy tickets, but after we had purchased our tickets, I felt at ease. We found our party and found seats in the waiting room. Mrs. Cho and I bought food for our companions.