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: