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"I Was a Broker" (26)
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2016-01-26 11:57:01
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"I Was a Broker" (26)


RYU Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000



I had spent over 120 days in this cell where I had learned the value of freedom. What I wanted most was unconditional release. It seems like yesterday that I had been busily running about China for the past four years tired, exhausted, and in danger. Ok-Byul was one of the first people I met in China and I remember her brightly running after Han-Chinese women, happily calling them aunts during our long and tiring travels. Hyang-Shim from Beijing is a great singer. As our party sat in a circle in the Western Beijing station plaza, eating cakes I was worried that these defectors might feel ill at ease at in this strange land. I wanted to help dissipate their worries and I asked Hyang-Shim to sing since everyone said that she was a great singer. She blushed and started singing a North Korean song. I think it was her favorite song when she was younger. She sang in a clear voice and then offered to sing another.  The song reminded them of their homeland. They seemed nostalgic since they could never go back even if they wanted to. There is a picture of a little girl in my house—her name is Song-Lim and I helped her and her sister get to China after their mother died. She claimed to be 15 but seemed much younger due to their small stature. She didn’t know how to read, and when I asked her why she explained that his father died when she was young and since her mother was sick, she and her sister dug up mountains herbs and sold them at the market to provide for their mother. Song-Lim was adored in the “House of Love” and studied quite diligently. She was cute and was a great singer. When you asked her to sing, she seemed ecstatic and danced as well. When she sang, she sang children’s songs that Chosun children often sang without lyrics. I hadn’t heard any news of her after I sent them to a shelter in August 2006. I should have brought them to South Korea myself and I feel like I have done her wrong.


One day in May 2007, my party had just passed the Mongolian border with soldiers followed them, blaring their lights. I got a call asked me what we should do. Were Chinese soldiers following them even though they had crossed the border? This should have been an area devoid of soldiers. I instructed them to head in further toward Mongolia. They had to be safe, even though they might get a little lost. It wouldn’t be too difficult to find their way later since guard posts and train stations were brightly lit. I stayed up all night waiting for news but didn’t get another call. The team in May was composed of eight defectors. This team included Hyuk-Chul and Hae-Kyung who had been staying in a shelter after being separated from their mother before coming to me. Hae-Kyung was Hyk-Chul’s sister but they seemed like twins. They must really miss their mother on this dark and rainy road. I hugged Hae-Kyung and told her that she could see her mother soon in Mongolia. She murmured her assent in a tight voice as if she knew what the border area was like. Chun-Sun brought Hae-Kyung but she was tired as well; would they make it over the border safely? I was even more anxious to hear back from them since this party included a sick person who recently underwent surgery and two children without parents. When I look back, I had successfully helped five children get to South Korea without their parents. There were four others that I couldn’t protect by myself so I took them to a shelter for a few months giving them a chance to study before sending them to another shelter. Song-Lim was one of these cases.


One day in May 2004, I heard that a man working for the captain of telecommunications in North Korea was shot by the China public police and after getting surgery at a hospital a nurse deployed by the Chinese Public Security was taking care of him. A defector living in Hamatang told me where the house of the man who had gotten shot was. Since the Chinese Public Security was looking over him, I couldn't act hastily and after thinking, I decided to gather up thugs and street gangs. They would block the alleyway where the defector’s house was and then I would steal him away in a taxi. I spent the next few days gather up people and raising money for the residential areas. When I was almost ready, I checked on the state of the defector and learned that he had been repatriated the day before. I had tried to hurry as much as I could but he was already taken. This defector had gotten shot when he was chopping down a tree near his house when the Chinese public police approached him. He had always been living in anxiety and thought that the police was coming for him. He ran for his life to the mountain behind his house. The truth was that there was a criminal living in the house behind him and the police was coming to arrest him. When they say someone running, they mistook this man for the criminal and ran after him, yelling at him to stop and finally shot at him when he didn't listen. The bullet hit him from three meters away and completely went through his leg. This man fixed electrical appliances for a living and heard from other defector that Sung-Gun was living in a prison.


In April 2006, Su Nam, a defector, was hit by the Chinese Public Security Police vehicle and had been hospitalized. The Police was also keeping him under close watch. I was determined to rescue him and looked for ways to extradite him from the hospital. I found someone who wanted to help but Su-Nam’s legs were both completely broken so he was unable to move. I checked on his health many times yet there wasn’t another occasion. When I was staying in Dalian, getting ready to go back home to South Korea, I got a call in the middle of the night. Su-Nam had been successfully taken away from the hospital and was currently staying at the “House of Love.” We had failed in getting out the defector who had gotten shot but we had succeeded this time around. We tried our best to fix his legs. I told him to practice walking everyday with a cane and he seemed to be improving.  I sent him to a shelter in Weihai at the end of May along with Kim Young-Geum, Cho Sun-Ok, and two other kids. He sent me six poems on Jesus and the House of Love along with a thank you letter. I put in a lot of effort to help Su Nam but on August 9th, 2005, he left the shelter without permission and wandered around, eventually getting caught and repatriated There are rules in the shelter and to break one of these rules could lead to terrible consequences. After Su-Nam and Cho Sun-Ok were arrested, they confessed the locations of nearby shelters, leading to three shelters forcefully abandoned and many people running from the police and sleeping on beaches. They also told the police where the shelter was in Yanbian and many people were arrested and the church experienced great material and spiritual misfortunes. The defectors in Yanbian quickly heard news of the betrayal and managed to move somewhere else quickly but the person in charge was arrested in his house along with his wife. Shelters are bound to fail if they are managed emotionally rather than rationally. Many refugees in Yanbian didn’t know where their shelter was and communication with outside was expressly forbidden. In May 2006, Kim Young-Geum from Heoryong was suffering from cholecystitis. The man in charge of the shelter brought her into his house and took care of her. She learned the name of man taking care of her and the name of the church during her stay there and shared the information with other refugees when she got back to the shelter. Su-Nam and Cho Sun-Ok had written down such information on their confessions. Shelters are directly linked with the fates of the refugees so strict order must always be maintained. Otherwise, emotions can ruin lives. I quickly gave 30,000 Won in Chinese Currency and was able to release the couple in three days. However the Chinese Public Security and others with the Department of Religion kept the church closed. They tried to confiscate the church vehicles and the whole fiasco was only resolved after Chul-E’s mother helped pay 15000 Chinese won to the Chinese Public Security to let the church stay open and keep its properties. I had helped Chul-E get to South Korea in January 2006, and his older brother in September 2006. As a result, their mother endeavored to help me in anyways she could. She made it to Mongolia safely in January 2007 and the occupants of the house she stayed in all made it to South Korea safely. After the incident involving Su-Nam and Cho Sun-Ok, the Shandong Chinese Public Security and Jilin Chinese Public Security registered the event as the largest shelter discovered in China and started a large-scale investigation looking for a man in charge of the shelter named XXX. All of my plans were set back due to one incident and I had lost many valuable contacts. I could never forgive Su-Nam and Sun-Ok for their near criminal breach of trust and I hope that those working with refugees can learn a valuable lesson from this incident.