While some North Korean defectors have the good fortune to escape on their first attempt, many must suffer the consequences of being caught before being able to cross and gain their freedom. Yet as Sun Young’s story shows, no matter what punishment they face, the hope for freedom each defector carries is difficult to extinguish.
Hardened by the imprisonment of her husband and a famine that left her family starving in the 1990s, when Sun Young one day found that she had unknowingly crossed the border into China, she left her family behind in North Korea to seek a better life abroad. She succeeded in staying unnoticed for the first few years but was eventually caught by Chinese authorities and repatriated to North Korea. Eager to return to the relative freedom and opportunity that she had found in China, she soon made plans for her second escape. Successfully fording a river into China – this time, intentionally – Sun Young once again went into hiding, only to be caught and repatriated a short time later. As a two-time defector, she was sent to a labor camp where she was forced to work without pay or proper meals. She was encouraged to spy on the other prisoners and was beaten when she didn’t follow orders. After more than a year of enduring the brutality of the camp, she was released into a North Korea that offered her little relief from the hardships she faced while incarcerated. Years after she had first experienced life abroad, Sun Young still dreamed of the freedom that awaited her beyond the North Korean border. For the third time, she made the journey to China. Fortunately for her, her third attempt would bring her the support of a dedicated underground community that would help guide her to safety from China and into a safe country.
Sun Young’s long journey to freedom ended when she arrived in South Korea with LiNK’s help. She is now with her daughter, who had escaped before her. She hopes her good fortune will continue.