North Koreans defect due to disillusionment not hunger

During the late 1990s and the early 2000s, almost all the North Koreans who fled their country were escaping out of hunger or economic need. But the explosion of markets has improved life for many. Today, more people are leaving North Korea because they are disillusioned with the system, not because they can’t feed their families. Following are excerpts of testimonies of recent defectors:

The accordion player: “I was ambitious. … I left because I didn’t have the freedom to do what I wanted to do.”

The doctor: “I hoped to work abroad as a doctor in the Middle East or Africa. But to work overseas, you have to pass security screening to make sure you’re ideologically sound and aren’t going to defect. I am a very capable person, and I was a party member, but even I couldn’t make it.”

The construction worker: “I worked [on a coveted, overseas job] for three and a half years, but I made only $2,000 during that time. We were allowed to work overseas for five years maximum, and I was hoping to save $10,000 and return home proud. I realized it wasn’t going to happen, so I started looking for a chance to escape.”

The bean trader: “I wanted to progress in life, I wanted to go to university, but because my mother had defected to China, [as part of the penalty I couldn’t.] … I felt like I didn’t have any future in North Korea. That’s why I decided to leave.”

The meat delivery guy: “We were told in school that we could be anybody. But after graduation, I realized that this wasn’t true and that I was being punished for somebody else’s wrongdoing. I realized I wouldn’t be able to survive here. So for two years I looked for a way out. When I thought about escaping, it gave me a psychological boost.”

The university student: “I was so disgusted with the system. I didn’t have freedom to speak my mind, or to travel anywhere I wanted, or even to wear what I wanted. It was like living in a prison. We were monitored all the time by our neighborhood leader, by the normal police, by the secret police. If you ask me what was the worst thing about North Korea, I’d say: Being born there.”

[Washington Post]

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