How North Korean math-whizz defector escaped through Hong Kong

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For Jong Yol-ri, the International Mathematical Olympiad in Hong Kong last year was his last chance for freedom. If the then 18-year-old, two-time silver medalist in the ­competition waited another year, he would be too old to take part, losing his chance to travel and ­escape North Korea.

Once in Hong Kong, Jong and other North Korean contestants were placed under strict surveillance. They could not use smartphones, had to relinquish their passports and were closely monitored by a team leader.

On July 17 last year, a day after the competition, Jong sneaked out of the dormitory at the Hong Kong University of ­Science and Technology, where the event had been held, and took a taxi to the airport. The student had planned his defection well before he left North Korea for Hong Kong.

Once at the Hong Kong International Airport, he approached staff working for a South Korean airline and told a manager that he wanted to go to South Korea. The manager then called the South Korean consulate and Jong was told that he had to take a taxi there by himself – protocol prevents diplomats from helping citizens from any country go into a foreign embassy or consulate.

Jong spent the next two months at the consulate, living in a small room, playing computer games and using a treadmill to exercise. “After staying in the consulate for a month, Jong became a bit uneasy, having no idea how long would he need to stay there until Beijing allowed him to leave for Seoul,” a source said.

In late September, Jong flew to Seoul with a new passport and a valid Hong Kong tourist visa. In Seoul, Jong took classes in South Korean language, culture, society and international relations. Next month he will start university.

[South China Morning Post]

This entry was posted in by Grant Montgomery.

One reference to “ How North Korean math-whizz defector escaped through Hong Kong

  1. […] the benefits of life in South Korea, some fellows also missed aspects of their life in North Korea. Ri confessed to yearning for the camaraderie he felt in North Korea, where he knew each and every […]

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