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"I Was a Broker" (24)
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2016-01-26 11:54:31
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 "I Was a Broker" (24)


RYU Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000



         From what I had seen, the lives of the refugees were truly miserable. These refugees ran to their freedom in the dark woods near Helong, yet they had nowhere to go once they crossed the Tumen River and could only hide out in the mountains. They held their tattered backpacks as if it was more precious than anything, refusing to throw it away in the mountains. I remember holding a 15 year-old child as the young refugee shivered from the cold. Her weight seemed to way only a few kilograms. This woman seemed to defy all sense and logic. She had been beaten harshly in North Korea agency, her face swollen beyond recognition. They had left her to die in the streets, but she was determined to get to South Korea. Her Chinese husband was in Brazil, but didn’t give her money fearing that she would run away. She used to cry with her child in a cold room, unable to buy enough firewood. She had buried her own mother quickly in a cornfield, for the fear of being discovered. This was the unbelievable reality of the refugee situation in China. They had left their homeland but couldn’t forget it. They used to fill the walls with North Korean songs and Chinese-Koreans for fear of losing the last ties to their homeland. They had no dreams, hopes, or future. It was difficult for me to suppress my tears after hearing their tales. Their only thought was basic: survival, freedom and avoiding capture by the Chinese public police. They needed to be given dreams and hopes for a bright and beautiful future. There was only so much I could do for them. Lord, please look after them.


It seems like a long time since I was first arrested by the Border Guards. I had gotten used the prison life such as the rotten smell of the bread that had bothered me in the beginning. The prisoners liked to predict when they would receive their indictments and their court date in their spare time. Prison life was very difficult. I heard that the food and the leisure time in South Korean prisons are much better than the ones I had to endure. Some of the prisoners used to pace the small cell screaming for their trials. I think they were getting sick of staying there. From my calculations, my trial should have been over, but I had yet to receive my indictment. On an afternoon on October 18th, the police officer asked for me and led me toward the visiting room. I simply stared at the officer, puzzled as to why I was brought here. The visiting room covered up the window with a huge curtain and had an old desk, two chairs and the interphone. When I sat on the desk, the officer withdrew the curtain and told me to speak into the interphone. I couldn’t think of anyone that would come to visit me. Then I noticed the tall consul that was walking toward me. When he came to visit me in September, I told him come all this way until my trial started, to which he replied that he would visit once a month. I greeted him, thanking him for coming so far. Yet the interphone was broken, making conversation difficult. I told the officer next to me that it was broken and he inspected it with a familiarity that made me suspect that this had occurred often. The consul asked after my health and quickly summarized what was going on in South Korea and the US. The US had submitted an official document concerning my release to the Chinese government, some countries had objected, and the South Korean media published articles about me, making the problem more complex overall. He told me that the South Korean government were putting their best effort in and that some of the work done by foreign affairs officials might cause problems for me. In other words, people working in foreign affairs had been quietly working for my  release, yet the interference of South Korean society and the official complaints made by the international community could dissolve all of their efforts so far. Currently, he didn’t know if the South Korean media  the Chinese Liberation Movement, and the efforts of US will cause negative or positive impact. After hearing his words, the South Korean and the international reaction was not one that I had wanted and I felt apologetic that things were getting so out of hand. When the  consul came to visit in September, I told him not to do anything to help me. The reason I had asked the consulate for help was that I wanted them to prevent forced repatriation of t North Koreans and to allow for them to come to South Korea with me by accessing the personal information of refugees. I told him again that I don’t expect anything from the media. He indicated that I shouldn’t bear the heavy weight of the cross alone, as if I was Christ, and that I needed to be freed soon. He told me that he was working for my quick release and told me to take care of myself. He gave me money kept in custody 1000won from the Korean Embassy in Beijing and told me to spend it on what I needed. Now that I think about it, I think he was indicating that I set up something in the prison and get out as soon as possible.  October in Inner Mongolia is cold, and to get to Siliyin Qota from Beijing would require the consul to change flights twice. I was overcome with guilt that the consul had to come this far for a short visit. I hope that he made it back safely.


After the visit, I returned to my cell #8 to think things over. He told me not to bear the cross alone. People were working for my release, with US sending out official documents to China, and the South Korean media was ablaze. The same had occurred when Chun Gi-Won missionary and Choi Young-Hoon had been captured after helping refugees. These men had families, churches, and friends and had media’s spotlight on them. In comparison, I had nothing. No one knew me, nor did I have people working aggressively for my release. I had lived quietly. Many people and churches had raised money and sent people to China to work for Chun Gi-Won’s release. I intimately knew the details of Mr. Chun’s release efforts. I can’t remember Choi Young-Hoo. I remember seeing his family briefly in spring 2003 at Southern Seoul Grace Church United Mission with his wife and two daughters. Im Yong-Seok Pastor at the Church was told me that was Mr. Choi Young-Hun’s wife, and I could finally met Mr. Choi’s family that I had heard so much about. His wife was a quiet person and there were lingering shadows on his daughters’ faces that eliminated any trace of smile. That was when I had first learned through Pastor Im that Mr. Choi ‘s family was living a time of trial and hardship. Mr. Choi had been cast into prison after attempting to rescue refugees and I felt that Korean churches should do something for his family in the meantime. The problem with Korean churches is that they want to put their name on every cause. They were intensely dedicated to causes with a lot of backing but they seemed to avoid good causes if it didn’t guarantee the spotlight. I hated it. They held no respect or consideration for those who quietly worked for good. Rather the Korean churches were filed with empty words powered by camera flashes. Even Mr. Choi ended up spending three years in prison, despite the continuous efforts of Korean churches and allied nations. Mr. Choi had been in a terrible state after returning to Korea. It would probably be the same for me.