North Korean defectors speak out at panel discussion
Georgetown University’s Truth and Human Rights in North Korea (ThiNK) put on a panel Wednesday evening featuring defectors from North Korea who told the tragic stories of both their failed, and successful, escapes from the country.
Most of the defectors spoke in Korean, and a translator relayed the words in English. Present at the panel were guest speakers Praise Ju, Hyeonah Ji, and Johan Kim. For the duration of each defector’s monologue, the audience remained silent, up right, and hanging on to every word.
One of the defectors described how she unsuccessfully tried to escape from North Korea three times and finally succeeded her fourth escape attempt. She was forcibly repatriated by North Korea three times.
After one of the escape attempts, she spent one year in a prison camp. Out of the 2,000 prisoners, she remembered that 1,800 had died and only 200 made it out alive.
“The only reason I’m alive is because I vowed I would tell the world about my experience,” the defector said, “To remember, I took photos with my eyes.”
One of the defectors has written a book detailing her long journey of transitioning from North Korea to South Korea where she now lives. The book which currently is only in Korean is titled “A Thousand Miles For Freedom”.
Through telling her story, she became most shaken when she said, “I myself had to experience forced abortion at the hands of the North Korean regime.” It is common for many repatriated North Koreans to experience forced abortion if they are brought back to to the country pregnant after escape.
Another speaker said, “It was dangerous, but we couldn’t stop.” The speakers talked about longing for a freer society void of brainwashing propaganda, but ultimately many of the defectors were driven to defect because of starvation. One of the defectors even described a time when there was so little to eat that he would eat grass to survive.
The solemn sentiment amongst the crowd was testament to the humble—and rare—experience of discussing a tragedy so harsh that we usually only hear about on the news and not firsthand in a Georgetown classroom.
Despite the length and peril of many of the defectors’ journeys to freedom, their desire to tell their story was unabashed.
Photo: Georgetown University ThiNK via Facebook