I tell you this story in hopes that you will tell people around you and it will snowball,” North Korean defector Kim Eunju said at the Cemara 6 Gallery in Menteng, South Jakarta, on Wednesday.
The 28-year-old was speaking after a recent screening of the South Korean film Crossing from 2008, based on the true story of a man as he struggles to escape from the north with this son.
In the film, Yong Soo (played by Cha In-Pyo) leaves North Korea to find medicine for his pregnant wife who has tuberculosis. In China, he works as an illegal immigrant under the constant threat of arrest and deportation. He becomes an unwitting defector to South Korea after he enters the German embassy.
Yong (the name is a pseudonym) works hard to save the money he needs to return to the north and save his family. His wife dies without medication. His other son decides to go to China, selling all the family’s belongings, but is captured and imprisoned at the border for trying to defect and as the son of a traitorous father.
Broken by news of his wife’s death, Yong is determined to find and bring his son to South Korea. He pays brokers to get his son from North Korea to China, then to Mongolia and the South Korean Embassy in Ulaanbaatar.
The 28-year old said that she had watched Crossing several times, each time evoking vivid memories of her escape.
“I followed that exact path of escape from North Korea to China, to Mongolia and finally South Korea. It took me nine years,” said Kim, who has lived in South Korea for seven years.
Kim said that she, her older sister and her mother were ready to die after living without food for days during the height of the North Korean famine in the 1990s. Kim was only 11 when the family decided to escape to China.
“Attempting to cross the border carries a high risk of getting captured and tortured to death, but staying without food would also result in death,” Kim said.
“It’s deadly both ways, but we wanted to try our chances.”
After escaping, they were caught and trafficked by unscrupulous Chinese as slaves, recaptured by the authorities and then sent to an infamous North Korean prison.
“We managed to escape again and spent years moving around in China to avoid human trafficking and capture. We spent eight years living on the run before making a go to Mongolia.
“It took me and my mother four months to cross the Chinese-Mongolian border and the Gobi Desert before reaching the South Korean embassy. Many defectors went along the same path.”
“Not all made the crossing,” said Kim, who wrote about her life-and-death struggle in a memoir titled An Eleven-Year-Old’s Will.
The screening was organized by the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR), the Indonesian Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), Southeast Asian Community and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).
Kim is emphatic as she campaigns for increased global awareness of gross human rights violation in North Korea. “I hope that [the] more people who are informed about the conditions, there will result in larger and ultimately [more] powerful enough global pressure to end totalitarianism in North Korea and save North Koreans.”