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Joy's Story: Part 2 - Trafficked in China

December 17, 2019
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In the first part of her story, Joy shared the details of her life in North Korea and how she made her daring escape. Read "Part 1 - Growing Up in North Korea".

After I finally got picked up by the broker, we got onto a bus. The bus got stopped by Chinese police twice and every time the police came aboard I pretended to be asleep.

I was ready to take the opium pill I had stashed in the collar of my shirt and end my life if I got caught, but thankfully I didn’t have to.

I got some rest for a couple of hours after I arrived at the house and then I was connected with the second broker. The second broker was a North Korean defector. I told her that I wanted to live with an old Chinese couple as their foster granddaughter. She shook her head and told me my only option was to be sold into marriage to a Chinese man so all the brokers who helped me escape could take my bridal cost as payment.

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I couldn't even think of refusing because I was afraid the brokers would do something bad to me or drop me off somewhere alone to get caught by the Chinese police and sent back to North Korea. I had also heard that if North Korean women refused to get married in China, then they could be sold to brothels or sex websites so that the brokers could receive payment. At that point, I realized that I was trapped and I didn’t have any other choice but to be trafficked. The second broker told me that I could escape after living with my Chinese husband for at least six months. If I escape in less than 6 months, the brokers that sold me would return my bridal money to the Chinese husband.

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The second broker took me to different small towns to sell me. Every time I went to a town, many old Chinese men gathered around me to bargain my bridal cost. I felt so ashamed. I was being treated as an animal and not as a human being.

The North Korean broker finally found a man who was willing to pay the amount the broker wanted for me as a bride. I couldn’t even communicate with him because I didn’t speak the language. I remembered looking at the broker’s face. She seemed to pity me. My whole being at the moment was filled with so much bitterness, hopelessness, and sorrow toward everything in the world.

I felt like I was losing everything including my own body to someone I didn’t even know. I was only 18.

Continue reading Part 3 of Joy's story where she shares about her escape from the Chinese man and her rescue journey through LiNK's networks.

You can support North Korean refugees like Joy each month by becoming a Liberty Monthly Donor.

Squid Game and the Stories of North Korean Defectors

October 18, 2021


Kang Sae-byeok from Squid Game as player 067
Via Netflix


**Warning: Contains plot spoilers


Netflix’s Squid Game has taken the world by storm, becoming the platform’s most-watched show debut and infiltrating popular culture. The high-stakes thriller juxtaposes nostalgic kid’s games with brutal consequences, hooking viewers with a compelling cast and pointed social commentary.


One of Squid Game’s most captivating characters is Kang Sae-byeok, a tough-as-nails North Korean defector who wants nothing more than to reunite her family. While she and her little brother managed to safely reach South Korea, their father was killed during the border crossing and mother was captured.


Sae-byeok’s story reflects the real experiences of the North Korean refugees we work with who have risked everything for freedom. Many were separated from family, have little support when resettling, and face prejudice.

The Perils of Defecting

Crossing the heavily guarded border between North and South Korea is virtually impossible. Instead, refugees must escape through China and journey 3000 miles through a modern-day-underground-railroad to safety in Southeast Asia. This has only become more difficult with pandemic-related restrictions on movement and border lockdowns.


A map of the route through China and Southeast Asia that North Korean refugees travel to safety


If caught fleeing North Korea or arrested in China, which doesn’t recognize defectors as refugees, North Koreans will be sent back and face harsh punishment - brutal beatings, forced labor, and even internment in a political prison camp. 


This is the reality that people like Sae-byeok’s mother face.

Still, thousands of North Koreans have risked everything to seek a better life. An estimated 33,000 refugees have resettled in South Korea.


“I wasn’t sure if I would see my family again because of the possibility of getting caught while escaping to China. Before I left, I got some opium and carried it underneath the collar of my shirt so I could take it to kill myself in case I got caught.”

- Joy, escaped through LiNK’s networks in 2013


Continue reading Joy’s story to freedom here.


Difficulty Assimilating

Once they reach safety and begin their new lives, refugees face a new set of challenges. Some have described the experience as stepping out of a time machine, 50 years into the future. Amidst figuring out the everyday intricacies of modern life, many refugees are still coping with the trauma of their past.


In addition to struggling to make ends meet, Sae-byeok faces social pressure and stigma as a North Korean. She deliberately masks her North Korean accent around everyone except her brother and is subjected to remarks about being a “communist” and “spy.” 


While it is not specified how her brother ended up in an orphanage, one can assume that Sae-byeok left him there in hopes that he’ll receive care and education that she cannot provide. Tragically, the difficulties of establishing a new life in South Korea separated her from her family once again.


Kang Sae-byeok and her younger brother at the orphanage in Squid Game
Via Netflix


“At first I struggled a lot. There were many times when I either didn’t understand South Koreans or they didn’t understand me due to our different accents and words...Another difficulty was loneliness…I still feel lonely from time to time. I really miss my family.”

- Hae-Sun, rescued while hiding in China in 2013


Read more from Hae-Sun’s experience starting a new life in South Korea here.


Working with Brokers

Hoping to bring her mother to South Korea, Sae-byeok was in contact with shady brokers who scammed her of her money. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to fund these risky escapes, especially directly out of North Korea, and then from China to Southeast Asia.


With the prize money from the games, Sae-byeok hoped to reunite her family and live under one roof again.


Kang Sae-byeok’s wish to use the prize money from Squid Game to reunite her family
Via Netflix

This is Not Where the Story Ends

Working with the right people who can help safely smuggle people across borders is the real deal. Liberty in North Korea helps North Korean refugees escape safely through a modern-day underground railroad, without ANY cost or condition.*LiNK’s rescue efforts begin in China 


LiNK reunites families, supports their new lives in resettlement, and helps individuals, like Sae-byeok, reach their full potential in freedom.


When LiNK’s field staffer told me I was finally safe, I was overwhelmed. I had endured so much to make it this far - hard labor, imprisonment, and torture. And even though I was overjoyed to make it to freedom, I was deeply saddened that [my daughter] Hee-Mang wasn’t with me… I hold onto the dream that one day we will live together again.”

- Jo-Eun, escaped North Korea through LiNK’s network in 2018


Read the story of Jo-Eun’s journey to freedom here.


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When North Koreans successfully resettle, they become some of the most effective agents of change on the issue by sharing their stories with the world and sending money and information back to their families in North Korea. 

Kang Sae-byeok’s story has come to an end, but you can do something to stand with the North Korean people today.

Watch undercover footage from real rescue missions.

→ Read more stories from North Korean refugees.

Donate to make rescue missions possible.

→ Connect with the global movement for the North Korean people by following us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Your generous donation will rescue and support North Korean refugees
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