“No Freedom”: This family flees North Korea for a world where “anything is possible” | the world

On a stormy night, Mr. Kim left North Korea with his family on board his own wooden ship, hoping to give his children “a better world” in a place where “everything is possible.”

“I studied the terrain and weather conditions and left on the worst night of a sea weather warning,” the defector told AFP in an interview, months after arriving in Seoul. Tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled to South Korea since the peninsula was split in two by war in the 1950s, but most choose to travel overland to neighboring China.

Exit by sea is so rare and so dangerous that few dare to cross the northern border, which is actually the sea border. But Mr. Kim, a 31-year-old fisherman who cannot be named for security reasons, was determined to succeed and despite two failed attempts, eventually managed to escape with his family of nine.

For months, he waited for the right moment, studying border patrol rounds and deciding when Pyongyang would begin lifting its coastal blockade, installed during the Covid pandemic lockdown in May. All members of the convict’s family, including his three-year-old child, worked to secure their escape, Mr. Kim, who adopted the use of his last name, which is more common in Korea, said. Kim assures.

“No Freedom”

In North Korea, the father led a quiet life, working to one day own his own boat. He started as a crew member on a fishing boat and later learned to dive to earn a better living.

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“If you plan well and work hard you can live a stable life in North Korea, but not freedom,” he says. The fisherman-diver had the means to build his own wooden boat, which he operated for about five years before deciding to escape by sea to South Korea.

She made her decision the day her children came home from school after “a ridiculous brainwashing session”. “I wanted them to do, say and see,” he explains. However, “it’s not in North Korea,” laments the young father, who “wanted to show them that there is a better world, a bigger world.”

“Second Birth”

In South Korea, the defector has spent several months debriefing in the North and can now devote himself to his new life. “It’s like a second birth,” says Mr. Kim. “In the North, I only saw airplanes fly in my dreams, in movies and TV series, but now I can actually fly,” he continues.

In early December, he attended a job fair for North Koreans, his first in nine years, at the COEX Convention Center in Seoul. Some withdrawers struggle to integrate. With decades of post-secession economic development far ahead of the North, they face many linguistic, cultural and practical challenges to overcome in South Korean society.

The job fair is one of many initiatives organized by the South Korean government to help them. About 100 companies and public organizations participated in the exhibition, Mr. Kim says. “Coming directly from the North, I’m very surprised to have such a culture,” he said, holding a stack of brochures.

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After working for several years in North Korea’s fishing industry, he vainly dreamed of becoming a ship pilot. It is impossible there. North Korea’s maritime industry is tightly controlled, with access to jobs highly restricted and dependent on experience and connections. “For ordinary people, (becoming a navigator) is a big dream,” said Mr. Kim laments. “But here, I’ve heard that anything is possible if you put in a little effort, so I’m going to try.”

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