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"I Was a Broker" (32)
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2016-01-26 12:23:45
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   "I Was a Broker" (32) 


RYU Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000



As I went continued my prison life, clad in a thin shirt, the only thing I could do was pray and think. Before I slept, or during the time of day when I was supposed to repent my crimes, I prayed and prayed but the Lord never answered me. I looked back on my life and thought about problems facing defectors. I grew up in a small town in the country and finished the obligatory military training lasting over ten years and seven months. I returned to my hometown and I worked earnestly, determined to turn my hometown into a beautiful village that others would be jealous of. I first woke up from that false image of paradise after I lost my youngest son. I had given my youth for my country but it was quickly turning into a mass grave for civilians. The people no longer believed in Kim Jung-I l and his party’s policies. The people had no clear set goals or directions since they were only looking to survive. Law and order was impossible to find and ethics and morals amongst individuals, families, and friends disappeared. The entire country was filled with nomads and drifters. Millions of civilians were starving to death and homeless children filled the streets. Yet, Kim Jung-Il was still preaching about uniting the country. Elders used to tell me that no one starved to death during the Japanese occupation. Kim Jung-Il wants to be a president in a unified country filled with the tombs of civilians. He has turned his back on humanity. I decided that only death awaited me if I were to remain in this country. I was determined to get to China. After a few days of hardship, I succeeded in getting to China. However, I wasn’t financially stable enough to properly take care of my son. Thus, I asked a man to take care of Chul-Min, my son, and I wandered about Yangi, Longjing, and Wangqing. I had to work harder and longer than others due to my status as North Korean defectors, but still the Chinese used to jeer at me. When I asked for wages to pay for months of unpaid rent, they sent gang members in the middle of the night to beat me almost to death. My time in China was spent as a slave, and I faced discrimination, contempt, scorn, threats, and taunts. Each day was harder than the last and I lived in constant fear of the Public Police. I used to wander the streets at night, and wake up at dawn to go to work. Every day was based on fate.


December 2006, an ex-defector woman living in Daejon asked me to help refugees living near Wangqing. I promised that I would provide support for them. I wanted to find any families or refugees hiding out in the mountains and provide aid for them first. After meeting a few defectors, I learned that there was a defector who had hidden out in mountains near Wangqing Baekchogu Gilcheongryeongeun after leaving his young son in front of a stranger’s house. The father had eventually picked up the son and they were now wandering aimlessly in China. I could not believe that he left his child in front of a stranger’s house. He should have spoken to the owner of the house before leaving his son there but he left his child without providing any explanations. I couldn’t believe that such things still occurred. I asked around to discover where the father and the son were now.  In May 2007, I finally discovered where the son was. I went to a valley in Uldogu, a little ways from Bangcho, with a guide. There were two houses there and it seemed like the owners weren’t home. There was a large dog tied outside that kept barking aggressively at us, and no one came out to look. When we entered, I saw a messy kitchen and a small child sleeping in a room. He seemed like he had just woken up and he had burn marks across his face. He stared blankly at us. There were large burn marks on his head as well. After a bit he seemed nervous and anxious. We gave him the cookies and drinks that we had brought for him and asked him for his name, age, where he came from, and where his father was. His name was Young-Suk and their family had defected over two years ago. As soon as they crossed the Tumen River, his mother had disappeared. His father had left somewhere about a month ago and he promised to come back on Children’s Day (June 1st). When I was still searching for him, I heard from others that Young-Suk was fifteen. Yet today, he claimed to be thirteen. I think his father instructed him to do so since he was short. Young-Suk was short and skinny and kept playing with the packaging instead of eating the cookies. He seemed wary and inspected our every move. We tried to reassure him and asked him who was living here and why his father left. Young-Suk kept mumbling to himself in a near inaudible voice.


The light drizzle changed into a downpour and the wife of the owner of the house had been working in the mountains but ran down in order to avoid the rain. We greeted her and told her that we came because we heard that there was a defector child living in the mountains. She told us that she knew that Young-Suk’s father was looking for work and brought him to the mountains to work with her. However one day, he left without a word, leaving his child behind. She was a sympathetic woman and had been taking good care of Young-Suk and truly regretted how Young-Suk wasn’t able to attend school since he had to hide out in the mountains. We told her that we wanted to take Young-Suk but she said that his father might come back and that we should take him away only after his father came back. I figured she was right so I asked her to let us know if his father ever returned. We left our phone numbers and descended the mountain. The rain streamed down in muddy rivulets down the mountain. We had decided that Young-Suk was hidden somewhere in this mountain range after we met a defector about a fortnight ago. He told us that he saw a defector about Young-Suk’s father’s age on his way from Bangcho to Pyongan. I determined that Young-Suk must be around Bangcho. Young-Suk’s father probably didn’t get too far. Defectors living in the mountains have a tendency of staying near that area while defectors living in cities are more predisposed to travel very far. As I spent time trying to figure out where Young-Suk’s father might have ran off to, I got a call asking me to take Young-Suk away. His father was somewhere in Pyongan and the woman asked me to take care of Young-Suk first before finding the father. I quickly travelled to Uldogu in Bangcho and brought Young-Suk with me. About a fortnight after we were able to meet up with his father. I told his father that no one could be responsible for his son other than himself and said that he should cross the border holding onto his son in his arms. The father gave me uncertain responses, mumbling something unintelligible about the Tumen River. I asked the woman who was planning to escape China in June to take care of them for a night. They were to come out to Yangi the next day and I hurried back to Yangi alone. Young-Suk’s father had been trying to find construction sites to work in and had abandoned his son at a stranger’s house.


It had been over ten years since the number of defectors started climbing. Yet even now there are people wandering in the mountains. There are countless defectors wordlessly leaving their children at a stranger’s house as they attempt to search for a job. They came to China, crossing the hazardous Tumen River, because they refused to sit still and starve to death. They had no political affiliations. They held some resentment over the political structure of North Korea but their thoughts were not developed past that point. These refugees simply came to China for survival. Then something happened. They were filled with terror at the thought of North Korea, and their dream of returning to North Korea, with fortunes made from China, shattered. If defectors are forcefully repatriated, they face punishment as traitors. They face death if there is evidence that they met Christian or South Korean missionaries. They spend days with bated breaths, fearing the Chinese Public Police. They longed for their homelands that they could never set foot in again. Their last resort was getting to South Korea and they were making their trek to the third country, defying death.  I have met hundreds of refugees and not one of them has forgotten their home for a second. I told the refugees that the road to South Korea was perilous and life endangering. I would advise them to return to their homelands, to which the defectors would reply that they would rather die on their way to South Korea, rather than return to the North. Through their words I learned that the defectors feared repatriation more than death. North Korea categorized defectors and enemies of the state. If they were ever released into society, they were recognized as defectors, and were never able peacefully assimilate into society. I learned just how harshly North Korea has been re-enforcing their ideology. from a woman defector’s tale. She told me about the time she was repatriated after her arrest by the Chinese Police. After she was released from prison, she longed to see her son. She waited all day in front of her son’s school and finally saw him come out after school. She rushed to hug him when her son and surrounding children ran away from her screaming “Traitor!” North Korea destroys the dreams of those refugees yearning to return home from China through societal manipulations. This forces the refugees to attempt defection once more since they are not able to adjust to society. Many defectors that I have met confessed that they were afraid to return home since they feared harsh punishment and rejection. Those that returned to North Korea have re-defected, confirming the same tale of punishment and abandonment. They crossed the Tumen River to avoid death by starvation, but now they were treated as traitors. There were many that longed to return home but they were unable to. To be more accurate, they were political refugees. They don’t know their own political status due to the complicated relationship between South Korean government, Chinese government, and the South-North Koreas. They were placed in a difficult situation due to this turbulent political climate. Rejection from society, severe punishment by the North Korean government and brutal crackdown on refugee drive North Koreans to defect more and more from their homelands.