Woman Who Was Sold Into Slavery Reveals How She Escaped North Korea Twice
A woman who escaped North Korea twice has bravely opened up about her terrifying experiences.
Jihyun spoke to UNILAD about her experiences of leaving the communist country and the things she had to go through for a better life.
Discussing the North Korean famine that began in 1994, Jihyun explained she lost her uncle to starvation.
Later, her father was victim to the same fate, but prior to his death, he told his daughter to take her younger brother and leave North Korea.
Jihyun had to leave her dying father on his own and, to this date, she doesn’t know exactly when he died and where he was buried afterwards.
Granting her father’s dying wish, Jihyun and her brother met at the North Korea and Chinese border in the middle of the night to cross over. The pair were halfway across the river located near the border when they heard gunshots behind them but managed to flee before knocking on the door of a Korean Chinese house for help.
The person who owned the house warned Jihyun she would need to marry a Chinese man to be able to safely stay in the country, otherwise, she’d be sent back to North Korea. It was then that her brother told her to leave for safety, and that he’d be okay. However, Jihyun’s brother ended up getting caught and was sent back to their home country. She still doesn’t know if he survived or died.
Jihyun was later bought by a Chinese farmer and his mother, and was made to work long, laborious hours on the farm.
She explained: ‘I’d wake up at 4:30am and would work until darkness. [The Chinese farmer’s mother] only gave me rice and kimchi. […] I really hated me.’ Jihyun compared this to slavery life in North Korea.
Her experiences left her feeling suicidal until she discovered she was pregnant. At the time of her son’s arrival, no one helped her give birth and she endured 12 hours of pain.
After going through this, the family who bought her told Jihyun they wanted to sell her baby. Jihyun protested this, telling them ‘If you touch my son, I’ll kill you’. Jihyun managed to escape the farm, living in different areas of China with her son for five years.
Sadly Jihyun went on to be arrested by the Chinese authorities and was sent back to North Korea where she was sent to a prison camp, while her young son remained in China.
After having issues with her leg while at the camp, she was sent to a government-run orphanage for three months where she was given treatment. This is when Jihyun decided she was going to attempt to flee North Korea again.
By 2004, when she was planning to flee again, North Korea had established ‘brokers’ – people who help North Koreans cross the border to China. Jihyun got in touch with a broker who told her the only way she could leave was through human trafficking.
Hiding her injured leg from the broker, he agreed to help Jihyun cross over.
Once they arrived in China, Jihyun, the broker, and two others who had been smuggled over got inside a taxi and were inundated with questions by the driver. Jihyun, who described Chinese taxi drivers as being like spies for the government, luckily spoke Chinese, while the others didn’t.
Jihyun managed to convince the driver that they were Chinese and he took them to their location.
The next day Jihyun was given the chance to phone her son and, upon hearing her son’s cries at the other end of the phone, the broker who smuggled her in had a change of heart.
After [my phone call with my son], the Korean broker told me that, ‘You saved my life last night. I have two children in North Korea. Let’s say this driver sent us to the Chinese police, and I was sent back to North Korea, maybe I’d have been sent to a prison camp, but you saved my life. So this time, I save your life.’
The man then told Jihyun to leave, despite their agreement to her being trafficked, and she went to find her son.
Jihyun knew that she needed to leave China and was advised to go speak to the United Nations. It was the UN who sent her and her son to the UK for a new life.
Since moving here, she told UNILAD she’s ‘now really happy everyday’.
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