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"I Was a Broker" (13)
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2016-01-26 11:30:49
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"I Was a Broker" (13)


RYU Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000



Shelters were ambushed several times per month and the refugee groups that tried to make their escape to Mongolia were either arrested by the Chinese government or lost their way. On public internet forums, there were blatant and obvious words on refugee escape operations such as “Light the candle, turn off the candle,” that could compromise the safety of the refugees. When working in such a line of work, every detail must be kept in secret and only revealed after the operation was successful. It seemed needlessly risky and stupid to me to reveal such details before the job was over. I used my experience to stress the important role of missionaries in shelters and warned them to cut off all contact with the outside until the success of the mission was at hand. I also gave them emergency phones in order to prepare for the worst-case scenarios. The other thing to keep in mind is that out of the refugees in the shelter, if there was someone who had to leave the shelter for some reason, they should force everyone to move to another shelter. The things I learned while working at X missionary organization helped me later as an activist in China. I set up two shelters in May 2004 and operated them until December 2006. My shelters had never been ambushed and I have successfully moved all the refugees in distances amounting to 600- 2000 km. It is not easy to separate the refugees between Halbin, Changchun, Beijing, and Weihai. Many defectors don’t even know a word of Chinese, and I have to form groups of 4-7 people including those who can speak Chinese per group. There are refugees who can’t even walk because their two legs have been shattered, there are orphans and children and women who need assistance. The reason I had been able to work successfully was that I had time to think over how I would help these refugees while I was working with the missionary organization. I had developed my own methods. I had observed people from my lower position and consulted with those that truly loved defectors, away from money and honor. I listened to those that planned rescue in China and respected their opinions when forming mine. In every battle, I think success rests on what kind of soldiers are fighting.


Years 2001 and 2002 was the hardest year for the refugees. Everyday, I heard news of arrest and failure to get to Mongolia leading them at risk of repatriation. Those that have made it to South Korea ached to bring their family members to South Korea yet there was only so much I could do to ease their pain. Those who made it to South Korea are lucky. Yet there were those who hid out in the mountains, away from accessing information on the outside world. They might wear modern clothes, but they led a very primitive life. It was a difficult task to supply aid to the refugees hiding out in South Korean mountains. I wished aid could be provided without political, economical, and religious complications, but South Korea can’t provide that in all honesty. I wanted to liberate them from everything. I couldn’t go to China. At the time, refugees couldn’t leave the country until after five years of resettlement. I thought over everything to get a passport but it was hard to make progress alone. In spring 2002, I sought out Kim Sung-min, the director of Freedom North Korea Broadcasting Station, at North Dongjihoe (organization for North Korea defectors) and asked if he could help me get a passport. From my first impression, he seemed gentle and straightforward and I felt immediately at ease around him. My respect for him started growing then and we began volunteer services by the name of Baekdu-Halla Association. We made an alliance with Chungang University Settlement House, in Seoul Gwanak-gu, and helped out refugees who were living alone in the area. Kim Sung-Min, Bi Bari, Seung Whae, Tak Eun-Hyuck, Jung Su-ban, Jang Chun-Hoo and South Korean college students all participated in the volunteer program. We visited homes of people who were living alone and we cleaned their house and prepared them for winter before winter came. We would also choose a holiday to go on a cruise on the Han river, and give them a big spring clean. My house was in Pohang, and there wasn’t any place for me to stay in Seoul. I stayed at a tiny barren room in a Gosiwon (An inn like place usually intended for students prepping for exams) near the number three exit at the Seoul metro station and made my meager living through manual labor.


From what I remember, May 2003 was an especially hard month for me. Every morning at dawn, I packed some food and went to the Labor Office, and I would wait hours only to go back home without any work.  I waited hours but couldn’t find a job. One day became two and two became a week, I waited over two weeks and I dreaded coming back to my small room every night. One day, they told me that they found work for me. I went to the site and worked enthusiastically.  The man that was in charge of construction stone asked me to work with him. I was so grateful for the opportunity, especially after being out of work for so long. I wanted to reduce transportation fees and save time so I moved to a Gosiwon near Hyo-Chang Park and walked to the construction site in the new government office building for the Ministry of National Defense.