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I broke out of North Korea TWICE only to become a slave in China before finally escaping to the West: Brave defector who now lives in Britain shares her incredible life story


A North Korean defector has revealed how she bravely broke out of her country twice only to become a slave in China before finally escaping to the West.

Jihyun Park, who was born in North Korea in 1968, shared how she fled the country when her uncle died of starvation in front of her and her father became ill. She told MailOnline how her father’s final wish was for her to save her younger brother and ‘leave this country’. 

Ms Park followed her father’s wish and set off on her first attempt to flee North Korea with her brother in the freezing cold on February 18, 1998. Halfway through their journey, they came under attack from North Korean soldiers who opened fire.

After making it over the border into China, Ms Park revealed how she was forced to marry a Chinese man. She was then deported back to North Korea – sent to a labour camp – and then ultimately escaped and made her way to the UK.

Ms Park – who stood as a Conservative candidate in the Bury local elections in 2021 but did not win – now lives in Britain with her husband, another North Korean defector she met while crossing borders, and three children.

Now, she has appeared in the latest episode of MailOnline’s new YouTube human interest series called ‘My Story’, which features people with extraordinary life stories.

To watch the full episode click here.  

Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Jihyun Park (pictured) bravely shared: 'My name is Jihyun Park. I was born in North Korea in 1968. I escaped North Korea twice. I went to China, was human trafficked, and then repatriated to North Korea, stayed in prison. I am free.'

Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Jihyun Park (pictured) bravely shared: ‘My name is Jihyun Park. I was born in North Korea in 1968. I escaped North Korea twice. I went to China, was human trafficked, and then repatriated to North Korea, stayed in prison. I am free.’

Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Ms Park bravely shared: ‘My name is Jihyun Park. I was born in North Korea in 1968. I escaped North Korea twice. I went to China, was human trafficked, and then repatriated to North Korea, stayed in prison. I am free.’

Ms Park told of how when she was a child, it was only pictures of Kim Il-Sung – the founder of North Korea – on the wall. He ruled the country from 1948 until his death in 1994.

‘North Korea told us that Kim Il-Sung is our father and the Workers Korea Party is our mother,’ she said. ‘We never say to them, I love my mother, my father. Thank you my mother, my father. We never said that. We always said ‘Thank you Kim Il-Sung’.’

Detailing her first escape out of North Korea, Ms Park recalled: ‘So in 1996, my uncle died of starvation in front of me and my father also fell ill. Also my younger brother had joined the military, but he didn’t pay loyalty money to the Government. 

‘So my younger brother ran away and came home. After that, the military also came to my house. They searched all of the village to find my younger brother. My ill father’s last wish was “Save your younger brother”. “Leave this country”.’

She said that she did not believe her father had said what he had because he was a Workers Party member and respected the Kim family highly. 

She continued: ‘It was February 1998. I left home on the 18th, but I met my younger brother on the 22nd in the Chinese border area and then, in the midnight, we left North Korea. 

‘It was winter. The river was frozen. So midnight at 2am, we crossed the border with my younger brother, but when we crossed half way North Korean soldiers shouted behind us and then there was gunfire.

Ms Park (pictured) shared how she broke out of her country twice only to become a slave in China before finally escaping to the West 

Jihyun Park (pictured) stood as a Conservative candidate in the Bury local elections in 2021 but did not win

Jihyun Park (pictured) stood as a Conservative candidate in the Bury local elections in 2021 but did not win

Ms Park told of how when she was a child, it was only pictures of Kim Il-Sung (pictured in 1984) - the founder of North Korea - on the wall

Ms Park told of how when she was a child, it was only pictures of Kim Il-Sung (pictured in 1984) – the founder of North Korea – on the wall

‘So my legs just were just freezing and I stopped. I couldn’t walk. I was really scared this time. But my younger brother was holding my hand, “Sister, sister, wake up, wake up!”. So he just bring me. Then we crossed the border.’

Once they crossed into China, they found a house with a light on where they were warmly welcomed with white rice, eggs and pork – a meal only usually served on Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il’s birthdays in North Korea. 

Ms Park explained how when they finished the meal, they were warned Chinese police would come and search the area because of the gunfire and the fact North Koreans had escaped.

‘But we had just arrived in China only a few hours ago and we didn’t know where we would go,’ she added. 

‘So he said that “My friend lives in the Tumen area, I’ll contact him”. So then an hour later, his friend came to us and we moved to Tumen. But his friend was a human trafficker. He told me “You have to marry a Chinese man”. He told me “If you don’t marry the Chinese man, I’ll just contact the Chinese police and then you both will be sent back to North Korea”. I just agreed with him. 

‘But when the Chinese man came to me, he did not accept my younger brother. He said that “I bought only you, I didn’t buy your younger brother”. But my younger brother told me that “Sister, you have to go. You have to survive”. That is my last communication with my younger brother. 

‘My life was the same as slavery, because in North Korea we are kind of machines and parrots. The North Korean Government destroyed all our emotions.’

Ms Park fled the North Hamgyong province of North Korea with her younger brother, but fell into the hands of human traffickers on arrival in China

Ms Park fled the North Hamgyong province of North Korea with her younger brother, but fell into the hands of human traffickers on arrival in China

She said that it felt the same in China because the village would keep an eye on her in case she tried to run away. When she arrived at her new husband’s house, his mother did not welcome her and told her she had to borrow a lot of money to buy her son a wife. She told Ms Park that she had to pay the money back by working.

Ms Park continued: ‘I wanted to give up this life because I already lost my father and lost my younger brother. But one day I found out that I was pregnant.’

Then in 2001, China made a campaign that people had to search for North Korean defectors and contact police if the were successful. The Government would then financially reward them so people who didn’t want to work would help because the money was better than their salaries.

Ms Park explained: ‘So they did the same to me, the villagers contacted the Chinese police. They arrested me and they sent me back to North Korea.’

She was first kept in a Chinese prison where only North Korean defectors were kept. She was strip searched by a male guard during her week at the prison.

She recalled: ‘I stayed for seven days in the Chinese prison, but everyday, any time, they would come to us in the female rooms and they would search again.

She was sold to a man whose family used her as a slave, falling pregnant with a son who she raised for five years until she was captured by Chinese authorities and sent back to North Korea alone. Pictured: Ms Park campaigning for the local elections in 2021

She was sold to a man whose family used her as a slave, falling pregnant with a son who she raised for five years until she was captured by Chinese authorities and sent back to North Korea alone. Pictured: Ms Park campaigning for the local elections in 2021

‘We had to take off all our clothes and we would just have to stand around, all of us females, and they would just keep looking at us. It was a kind of sexual assault, a violation, they would just smile, standing in front of us. I don’t think many people can even imagine how it was. Then we were sent back to North Korea.’

Ms Park was then sent to a camp where there were three rooms, one toilet, one door and no windows. She shared the space with men, other women and children who all used the same toilet.

They were forced to work on a farm with stones and animal waste everywhere wearing no shoes to stop them running away. 

Ms Park explained: ‘Life was like an animal…not animal…I don’t know how I can describe this life in North Korea. In North Korea, people are all modern slaves even in the 21st century.’

One day she woke up with a swollen leg which she thinks may have been some bacteria which became infected in her feet. She was given no medicine despite not being able to fell the lower half of her body.

‘They told me that “You could die, so you can’t die inside the camp, die outside anywhere!”. So then they just released me,’ she told MailOnline.

‘So I just left that camp. But, you know, I had no family. So then I went to my village’s police office, and they sent me to an orphans’ house. When I stayed in the orphans’ house, many children were in there, there were just children in there, adult, only me. 

Ms Park said she joined the Conservative Party due to their emphasis on family values and individual freedom

Ms Park said she joined the Conservative Party due to their emphasis on family values and individual freedom

‘Everyday they would look to see if I would just run away. Every week, the police officers would check my condition. So if my condition had improved, then they would bring me again to the labour camp. 

‘The first time I escaped North Korea, me and my younger brother, it was without a broker. But the second time, in North Korea they had many, many brokers in North Korea areas and they would try to find women and girls to sell in China. 

‘So I found a broker and the second time, you know, I had myself human trafficked to China, because my son was waiting for me in China. My son was the last family I had left.’

When she crossed the Tumen River – in a taxi with the broker, another trafficked woman and an old man – her clothes were filthy and her hair was yellow, which sparked questions from the taxi driver. 

Ms Park – the only one who could speak Chinese  – told the driver they were a family and made up she was with her fake husband, father and younger sister who could not speak the language for a variety of reasons.

She did not contact her son on the first stay because she had promised the broker she would be human trafficked in China. 

Ms Park continued: ‘But next morning I woke up, the young lady was already gone because they already sold her, and the old man found his relative’s house and he is gone. 

‘And then North Korean broker told me that you can contact your son, but only once, you know, I quickly dialled his grandmother’s house and I contacted them and my son was on the phone. But he didn’t to say any word. He just put the phone down. 

I called again, he put the phone down. On the third time I said, “Son, it’s mom, it’s mom!”. Then my son said only one word, “Mom?” and then he cried. The room was very silent and everyone heard my son cry. And then I also cried, and then my son, just put the phone down. 

The North Korean broker then thanked her for saving his life for speaking Chinese to the taxi driver by not selling her and letting her find her son.

They then went to Beijing but their journey failed as they could not get into the South Korean embassy as the Chinese police were checking passports outside.

They met nine North Korean defectors in front of the embassy who had also failed to get into South Korea. Instead, they were told to go to Mongolia to find another South Korean embassy.

Ms Park continued: ‘In China, they made a really strong fence in between China and the Mongolian border. So it’s two metres high and really strong. So we cut off that fence and you know everyone just ran out. 

‘But me and my son continued to walk because my leg had problems and my son did not understand why we had to cross this border. But as we walked, a few minutes later, I saw someone come towards us. So I was really shocked. I thought that it was Chinese police. 

‘But one man came to us and he carried my son and held my hand. Then we just run, run, run. And after that we crossed the second Chinese fence and then run again. And after that, we arrived in Mongolia. 

‘The Mongolian fence was only about 50 centimetres. So we just jumped After arriving in Mongolia, I saw this man. So this man was also North Korean. We met in China. He saved me and my son’s life. 

‘So, you know, for the first time, I fell in love. This man is now is my husband. We lived together in the UK. We have now two more children, so three children here.’

They stayed in the Mongolian desert for three days but could not find anyone there. They then crossed the border again from Mongolia to China and stayed in Beijing for two years.

It was here that they met an American Korean pastor who helped them go to the United Nations and reach the UK. 



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