The long road to South Korea

North Korean defectors rest in a hotel room in Thailand. They will be sent to Seoul, where they will become South Korean citizens.  (Paula Bronstein / For The Washington Post)

North Korean defectors rest in a hotel room in Thailand. They will be sent to Seoul, where they will become South Korean citizens. 

(Paula Bronstein / For The Washington Post)

Instead of the short one hour and 45 minute flight from a Shenyang, China to Seoul, refugees who defect from North Korea face a much more grueling and dangerous route to safety.

Via buses, long walks over mountains, boats and hiding in the dark at border checkpoints, these refugees will journey from North Korea, through China, Laos or Vietnam, and finally Thailand, where they can request asylum and be transported to South Korea.

"I kept thinking: Imagine if I made it this far and then I got caught in Laos," a young mother said.

The article follows a group of refugees who have paid smugglers to transport them through any means possible – for the hope of a new life in South Korea. Whether it’s for new economic prospects or the fear of returning as a repatriated defector, each traveler focuses on their motivations to escape as they continue along the “underground railroad.”

Read the full Chicago Tribune story here:

Seeking to be reunited with children left behind

Jeong-ah Kim's child still in China (SBS News)

Jeong-ah Kim's child still in China (SBS News)

For many defectors, the danger and difficulty of escaping to China poses an impossible choice: survive and leave behind loved ones, or stay with family to face hunger and brutality together.

One woman, Ms. Kim, was smuggled and married to a Chinese farmer after 10 years in the military and malnourishment.

"Conditions in North Korea were so bad I would have half a piece of bread in the morning and the other half in the evening, and one sip of water in the morning and one at night," she told SBS News. "So eventually I decided to leave."

However, she left behind her oldest child in North Korea and her second child in China after she fled again.

Today, she has created a non-profit “Tongil Moms” that has been lobbying the UN to reunify her and other mothers with their children left behind in North Korea.

Read the full story here.

“Everyday Life” for North Koreans highlighted on NPR

NPR’s Weekend Edition featured an interview with Liberty in North Korea’s Director of Research and Strategy Sokeel Kim, who touched on what the “everyday” looks like for a North Korean.

Sokeel Park

Sokeel Park

“…with so much focus on Kim Jong Un and nuclear weapons and missile launches and these kind of things, North Korea is often just seen as a security problem, as a potentially kind of crazy or irrational dictator with missiles. And often, we miss out on the story of 24 million ordinary people, just like you and I, who are living their lives in that country. And the country is changing on the inside.”

Kim goes on to cite changes in information, a basic market economy that has been established in the country, and less-effective indoctrination of the younger generations who are increasingly fleeing the country.

For the full interview and transcript, click here: