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"I Was a Broker" (11)
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2016-01-26 11:28:19
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"I Was a Broker" (11)


RYU Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000



Before we parted I asked him if he could please send me a copy of Bible. The officers had taken it away from me. He said that when he returned to Beijing, he would send me clothes, a bible, and Korean hot pepper paste and Korean ramen. I didn’t want to be of inconvenience to him and the Korean Embassy so I said there was no need to send me the extra food. He left 300 won with the prison under my name so that I could use it to buy necessities. I was already thankful and apologetic that he had come all this way but his deep concerns for my life here left me speechless. I had lived in North Korea, lived as a slave in China. Proper work in China only became available to me after I had become a South Korean citizen. Even if I lived in a prison in China, I had the protection of South Korea behind me. Eventually, I would be granted a proper trial, even if it may be just for show. I had rights to speech and I could defend myself in a trial.


What if I had been arrested as North Korean defector in China? A trial would be impossible since I not be presented with an arrest warrant nor would I be indicted properly. I was suddenly thankful of the fact that I had South Korea’s protection. I would either be sentenced years in prison or get kicked out of China, but what would be the fate of my companions? We were all born on the same Korean peninsular yet they did not have any protection available to them. They could never dream of a proper trial, all of their rights would be stripped from them, and they would be dragged back to North Korea with no guarantee of ever seeing the sunlight again. It was too horrible to even think about it. I had already told the consul, but Su Ing-Ji had told me that he wasn’t sure about their fate. The only think I could do was pray that they could come with me to South Korea. I was too weak. They were human, our brothers and sisters. They should be given the rights to life. I prayed that forceful repatriation could be stopped and prayed that they could be given a chance at life.


It had been a few days since the consul left. The date was September 10th. The morning blended into the day when Su Ingji appeared with the scribe and the translator. They wanted to make sure all the information they gleaned from me during interrogation was correct. They read to me what I had told them earlier and asked me to put my thumbprints on it. They had been unable to figure out anything other than the three refugees that I was helping. Chinese Public Security kept asking after my pseudonyms but I insisted that I had never used a fake name before. They didn’t seem to believe me but just let it slide.  Su Ingji loitered by the window, mumbling something to himself. The translator told me the investigation was now over and asked me how many refugees I had honestly helped during my life. I said I had helped about 70 on my own, and have partly helped or protected more than 300 refugees. I told them if they asked certain people inside Beijing Chinese Public Security, they would find people that I had protected before handing them off to other brokers. On my own, I had helped 70. They came to China to avoid starvation only to discover that the Chinese government was sending them back to North Korea. As a result, they were looking to get to South Korea to survive. I asked them again to please let my companions come with me to South Korea.


Was it the next day? The police officers called me out of my cell and led me into the interrogation room where two women had documents laid out on the desk. They asked me to sit on prisoner’s desk. The translator informed me that these women were Xilin Gol League’s People's Procuratorate prosecutors and they had come to investigate me. The prosecutor was a young and beautiful woman. They looked over the information that I had given the officers and asked me to sign it. The investigation was over without the fuss that I was expecting. I asked these women again to please help the Chinese government allow my companions come to South Korea with me. So far, the official number of refugees I had helped was at 27. I probably would get less than seven years in prison. While the officers were investigating me, I had told them that I had been helping refugees get to Mongolia since 2007. I did not tell them the true number of refugees per each month group.


Many believe those refugees that make it to Mongolia live comfortably but I want to let the refugees currently in China know that that was not necessarily true. Depending on which district the refugees entered, some refugees would be sent back to China. Furthermore, Mongolian government would request that the Chinese government strengthen security around the areas where NK refugees frequently entered. When the soldiers were interrogating me, they had shown me a booklet filled with photos and asked me if they were the ones I had helped escape. I had seen many familiar faces of people I had helped between fall 2006 and June 2007. I had no idea such unexpected border security alliance rested between Mongolia and China. In the book, many photocopied pictures were pasted on with comments scribbled in modern Mongolian with some comments partly translated into Chinese. In the booklet, it wasn’t just composed of the refugees that I helped but included group pictures as well as id photos. There seemed to be more than a few hundred faces in the booklet. The reason they had traced these people back to me was that they all had introductory letters in Mongolian. Secondly, the refugees I had sent had one or two cell phones per group, and I had fixed the calling direction on their phones. I had directed them to stay at a station or at a military base camp, should they lose their way. The third factor was that each refugee knew how to cross the border and than a map on them with each team holding a Chinese military compass. These similarities must have been noticed in Mongolia. Otherwise, there was no way that the Chinese soldiers could have picked out just the refugees that I had helped out of the thousands.