North Koreans in the South, the long distance run

By Andres Sanchez Braun

Seoul, Jul 2 (EFE).- Over 33,600 North Korean defectors live in South Korea.

But after risking their lives in a journey that can take many years, another long-term challenge awaits them in the foster country: an ultra-competitive society which they are not ready for and that stares back at them with contempt.

The border between South and North Korea is 238 kilometers long, but the war from 1950-1953 ended up turning the rim – artificially drawn in 1945 – into an almost insurmountable maze of barbed wire and landmines.

Crossing it is not only an almost impossible task. For North Koreans it is illegal to leave their country, a state which also holds tight control of its northern borders with Russia and China.

So the brave citizens in search of a better life must undertake a dangerous 2,500 – 5,000-mile odyssey across two or three other countries.

Criminal gangs and brokers take defectors’ lives in their hands in a journey that can cost a lot of money and in which the final price tag can be much worse: deportation back to North Korea, where desertion is brutally punished.

Angella Kim had to secretly work as an illegal immigrant in the Chinese city of Shenyang for a year and a half before she could set foot in the South.

For Kim Eun-sun it took two attempts — she was deported and imprisoned back in North Korea — and a total of nine years until she reached the country.

Fleeing her country was not a “matter of choice,” said Eun-sun.

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