I was head of the local inminban [a type of neighborhood watch] when my eldest daughter’s family defected from our community in North Korea. At the time my songbun [family political background and loyalty] was good, but I was under heavy surveillance after and faced discrimination.
Songbun in North Korea is handed down from generation to generation. My older brother was made a hero of the State twice, so we were a “double hero” family. Our family was bestowed the honor during Kim Jong Il’s rule after we donated pork to the army [when we had a bumper crop of pork]. We received many benefits and our family had ties to the military, so our songbun was definitely good. But living under surveillance made me very anxious and stressed, and I began thinking ‘going down South’ would be better than living a life like that.
As soon as my daughter defected, the Ministry of State Security (MSS) came to search my house. It was joint search conducted by the MSS and Ministry of People’s Security (MPS), and they entered my house without a warrant. They went through our closet, ripped off the paper walls that were blocking out the wind and searched high and low for any sort of evidence. It was as if we committed espionage; they even went through our roof and floor heating panels. The search was so dehumanizing that it made me want to shoot them if I had a gun. I thought to myself ‘I can’t believe I worked so hard for my country under these people’.
They threatened to confiscate my home, a house that I had bought. We moved into the house after our first daughter suddenly defected and we hadn’t even unpacked. My youngest daughter and her family were living there at the time but a local administrator tried to forcibly evict them and take the house. … The administrator’s men told my daughter’s family to pack their belongings and leave the house. They even threatened them with an axe, but my daughter stood her ground and managed to keep the house. Read more