North Korean defector: I could not trust anyone

A North Korean defector has spoken out about how he escaped from the world’s most secretive state with his infant son strapped to his back and a cyanide pill in his mouth. Choi Joong-Ha left North Korea with his wife Yun-Ah-Jung and one-year-old son Joon Choi in 2004. He had been conditioned into such a state of paranoia that he did not tell his wife about the escape.

Joong-Ha told his wife they were going to visit his brother who lived near the Chinese border. When they reached the Tumen River that separates the two countries he revealed the real reason they had come. “My wife was not pleased and she didn’t want to go. If the authority catches you trying to escape, you will be shot or sent to a camp.”

For 12 years Joong-Ha had been in the North Korean army and would, therefore, have been subjected to the most severe punishment if he had been caught trying to leave. Because of this he waded across the river with his son strapped to his back and a cyanide pill in his mouth. “I would have been arrested, tortured and put in a camp or shot there and then. If the authorities saw us trying to cross it would be better to die in the river.”

The trip across the river took a day and when Joong-Ha and his family got into China they had to strip off their clothes and dispose of anything that might identify them as North Korean. He said: “Just because we had got to China it didn’t mean we were safe. Every day we were fearful of being caught and being deported.

“We were lucky that my wife had family near the border and she and my son could stay with them. They helped us a lot.”

After four years working as a labourer, Joong-Ha managed to save enough money to pay a broker to take him and his family to the UK.

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