The man is polite, but clearly anxious. He has asked us not to show his face, and to conceal his identity.
After more than two decades serving in North Korea’s military, he escaped from the country last year. He had to leave his wife and his two daughters behind.
His defection was driven by desperation. His family was struggling for food, and the only way he could see to provide for them was to cross the border to China and earn money to send back. During his first attempt he was caught, but before it was clear he intended to cross the border. He says he was beaten for 15 days, his family rounded up and questioned, the friend he had been traveling with taken away.
He resolved to try again, but this time he knew it would be his last chance. He told his family to deny all knowledge and blame everything on him. He set out in the dead of night, inching his way down a 150-metre cliff and wading across a river in the dark. “Where the water was deep, the surveillance wasn’t so strong. … I sat down and cried for an hour, thinking my wife and children would be in jail.”
Now, in his immaculately tidy flat in South Korea, he has one of everything: one mug, one bowl, one soup plate. Dinner time is the worst, he said, eating alone. He hasn’t been able to speak to his children since he left and has only occasional, brief phone contact with his wife.
In the corner is a piggy bank. On it he has written, “Thinking of my Kyung-Ae” - his youngest daughter. He’s working long shifts and saving up to try to get his family out.
He knows they are alive, and has managed to get some money to them, but he misses them terribly, and constantly re-lives how he said goodbye.
[Sky News] Read more