North Korea: Defector Reveals Harrowing Escape

Stuart Ramsay, Chief Correspondent, In South Korea

Defectors fleeing North Korea are routinely sentenced to death as the government attempts to shut its people away from the world. Here one woman tells her story.

The North Korea that the government hides from the outside world is characterised by food shortages, indoctrination, military paranoia and labour camps where thousands toil to stay alive; locked up for showing even the slightest dissent.

Attempting to escape the country is a capital offence. The regime is determined to keep its iron grip on the population.

Defectors send messages home revealing that the outside world is not determined to crush North Korea and that people do not need to live in a twilight of perpetual shortages.

Some do make it, accepting they will never see their families again.

They spend their lives living as anonymously as possible; a picture of them in the south on any type of media would condemn their families at home to instant imprisonment.

In North Korea punishment lasts three generations. A husband and wife, their children and their grandchildren will all be punished, will all be locked up in the camps.

Lee Hyeonseo escaped with her entire family so is happy to speak out.

Speaking in a drop in centre for North Koreans at a Seoul university she said: "A family would completely be sent to a prison camp if they found out their family are in South Korea; it is a little problem if they are in China but it is a different thing if they are in South Korea.

"People in the north don't know the truth about what is going on as they can't hear or see anything about the wider world.

"They don't know about human rights or the suffering. They live in a virtual prison."

The journey to South Korea is difficult, long and dangerous. They cross to China. If they are arrested there they are sent back to certain death.

They then make their way through Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam heading for Thailand where they present themselves to a South Korean embassy and apply for asylum.

Miss Lee said: "It is very hard and long and very difficult."

She will not give any details of how she bribed her way out of North Korea, but she did it for herself and her family.

After overcoming an arduous journey across challenging terrain, she and her family were jailed for illegally crossing the border into Laos.

In an open letter she describes how she met an Australian backpacker who paid for her family's release to the South Korean embassy.

"I thanked you with all my heart and asked why you were helping me. 'I'm not helping you,' you said, 'I'm helping the North Korean people'.

"Please, reach out and reconnect with me and my family. You have set in motion an overwhelmingly positive source of energy and happiness that I am only beginning to comprehend," she writes.

If you are the Australian backpacker who helped Miss Lee please email and write "Australian Search" in the subject

The current crisis is about the regime holding on to power according to Miss Lee.

She said: "He (Kim Jong Un) needs to do something to show the people that he is protecting our country. The people are told it was started by the US or other countries.

"This is good propaganda for him that is why he is doing this it is all absurd."

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