Accessibility links

North Korean Defectors Tell of Hardships and Hope, Part 3

A North Korean soldier chats with a villager while doing a routine guard along the waterfront of the Yalu River at the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite side of the Chinese border city of Dandong, China, Saturday, Aug. 18, 2007.

"Earthquakes in China and tsunami in the Philippines, these are disasters that are visible and people help these visible disasters. But in North Korea, there are invisible homicides and harassments."

Kim Kwang-jin held a prestigious banking position before he fled North Korea for freedom. He says the clandestine manufacture and sale of weapons of mass destruction have provided the regime of Kim Jong Il its largest source of hard currency. Kim also says North Korea is engaged in multibillion-dollar insurance fraud activities.

Kim says continuing financial pressure and sanctions against North Korea will help squeeze the flow of money and help suffocate the regime's ability to continue. Forcing internal change, he says, will lead to a better climate for reunification with the South.

"The best way would be to have a proper governance in North Korea, a proper, better regime in North Korea. And rebuild North Korea and close the gap between the north and the south. That would be the best way to have a reunification," he said.

Quick Facts

  • About 2,000 to 3,000 North Koreans defect and leave North Korea every year
  • Estimate of 18,000 to 20,000 North Koreans living in South Korea
  • 30,000 North Koreans living in China and the Russian Far East
  • 65-70% of North Korean defectors are women
  • It usually takes a few years for defectors to transfer to South Korea and settle down
Sources: U.S. State Department, UNHCR and the South Korean Unification Ministry

After leaving North Korea, Kang Cheol-hwan became the founding director of the North Korea Strategy Center, a nonprofit organization in Seoul. He is preparing North Korean defectors for leadership roles after reunification. And he met with U.S. President George W. Bush after writing a book titled The Aquariums of Pyongyang about his experiences.

"Earthquakes in China and tsunami in the Philippines, these are disasters that are visible and people help these visible disasters. But in North Korea, there are invisible homicides and harassments. Just like Auschwitz, there is a gulag in North Korea and there are mass killings. I wanted to tell the story through the book and tell it to the world and how the harassment and human rights abuse is being conducted in North Korea," he said.

Kang says it is important to educate and prepare South Koreans and even Korean Americans for the inevitability of a unified Korea. Katy Oh, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, agrees. "All human beings are the same. They all pursue the same important traits in life, such as freedom and happiness and pleasure and good health. And so if this universal rule is applying to every human being, I say you can learn the lessons from any divided country with a bloody past," she said.

Tomorrow in the final part of our series, recent history and education may provide a blueprint for rebuilding the Korean peninsula under a single government.

  • 16x9 Image

    Jim Stevenson

    For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.