Getting out Doesn’t Mean You’re Actually Out

Liam Redmond, Staff Writer

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While North Korea’s intentions and day-to-day activities are covert for all but for those inside of the “slaughterhouse” itself, the horrors and human rights violations that occur within country are not. With the hundreds of publicly available photos and satellite images that illustrate, depict and pinpoint the starvation and public beatings that occur, it’s fair to assume that the majority of people (at least in US) would be in favor of allowing the oppressed people of North Korea to escape to other countries. However, what’s commonly overlooked is that more often than not, life for the defectors is worse than it was originally in North Korea.
As stated by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), in their annual report on North Korea, the country still remains the “most oppressive country in the modern world”, and upon looking at the variety of inhumane activities that occur there, the speculation doesn’t seem far-fetched. It is the knowledge of the majority of the world that there are public beatings and executions, no freedom of speech, limited access to information, labor camps (which consist of inhumane torturing, and can be compared to the concentration camps that existed during the rule of the Nazi’s in Germany), and an economy that’s so subpar that starvation is normal.
Now, while the above surely does sound horrific, the life of defectors can be just as bad, if not worse. Assuming that those attempting to flee N.K. manage to get past the country’s tightly guarded borders, where if they get caught they are tortured, they then have to deal with the neighboring countries they inhabit, many of which are not welcoming of them (excluding South Korea). China for example commonly ID checks, jails and deports North Koreans found back to their home countries where they are put into indescribably dreadful labor camps.In attempt to avoid this, the defectors must find someone to shelter them, which quite often will lead to them selling themselves off as free-laborers if they are men or as prostitutes/wives if they are women.
For the select few who do manage to get into welcoming countries such as South Korea, life isn’t easy either. Since many defectors who end up in South Korea make attempts to send money to family, friends, and loved ones who weren’t able to escape from North Korea, the North Korean government is able to intercept those messages and then blackmail (through the torturing of their families) those defectors into returning to N.K.
In addition to that, because of the huge differences in the schooling and working environments that North and South Korea have, many North Korean defectors find themselves unable to catch up to their South Korean peers in school, and to the fast-paced working environment South Korea requires its citizens to work in. As a result of that, many of the refugees either continue to live in poverty-like conditions (just like they did in N.K.) or eventually end up returning to N.K.
Even if the defectors do manage to adapt to their new country’s working-environments, and earn themselves a decent living, the suffering and hardships aren’t necessarily over. IN the past few years, publicly known N.K. defectors have begun to resurface in the North increasingly often, leading many to believe that North Korea has began to abduct the refugees. When they do surface in the North, they are almost always in N.K. propaganda films, which depict the countries that the defectors fled to as terrible and weak. The most recent resurfacing (which was in July), consisted of South Korean TV Star, Lim Ji-hyun. Ji-hyun was an increasingly popular reality tv star, who had spoken out against North Korea in regard to the horrors of the countries, and the hardships she went through while trying to escape. As stated in the New York Times article by Choe Sang-Hun, Defector to South Korea Who Became a Celebrity Resurfaces in the North, Ji-Hyun had just made a statement on her birthday about the joy she was experiencing from being able to live in South Korea, when she disappeared. She then resurfaced in a North Korean propaganda video a few weeks later, where she stated, “The South was a lie. The only thing I found there was pain and suffering…”
Both Mr. Burns, a history teacher, and Dean Redmond, a student, have voiced their opinions on this matter. Mr Burns has made the prediction that, “with the way that North Korea treats their citizens, combined with the fact that they now have access to nuclear weapons, the rest of the world will eventually be left with no choice but to confront North Korea in a physical manner”. Mr. Redmond (who’s a senior) also made an interesting claim, and explained that he feels as though life for the defectors is worse than it was in North Korea. In his statement he said, “In North Korea, the defectors only had to struggle to get food and shelter. And I know that sounds bad but, compared to defecting, where they still had to struggle for food, they also faced extreme fates and potentially life-threatening situations.” So, at the end of the day, the question that has to be asked is, “Is the life and dangers that await North Korean defectors worse than the conditions they faced while in North Korea?”

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Getting out Doesn’t Mean You’re Actually Out