Experiences of a 15-year-old defector in a North Korean labor camp

Charles Ryu said he’s one of only 275 North Korean defectors living in the United States.

With an easy smile and calm voice … Ryu shares how he managed to escape not once, but twice from the most repressive regime in the world.

Ryu was born in 1994 to a Chinese father, who abandoned Ryu at age 5, and North Korean mother, who died of starvation when Ryu was 11.

When he was 14, Ryu and his stepbrother escaped North Korea. They bribed border guards, swam across a river and met Ryu’s father in a taxi in China.

But Ryu’s joy was temporary. He was captured by Chinese police and was kept in a Chinese jail for two weeks before being sent back to North Korea. Upon reentering his home country, Ryu was interrogated for months by the North Korean government.

Fifteen-year-old Ryu was then sent to a labor camp where he was given 150 kernels of rice to fuel 12 hours of work every day. One morning, Ryu was so overcome by starvation that he ate rice from dry vomit he found on a roadside.

After nine months, Ryu couldn’t stand or even lift an arm. While others have to work until they die, Ryu was released after nine months because of his young age, physical weakness and relatively insignificant crime of trying to unite with his father.  Continued

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