Yoo Ri has a good-natured, kind face and smiles easily, but she has had to hide her pain and sadness for many years. Both of her parents died when she was a child so she, being the youngest, lived with her older siblings until adulthood.
After getting married, she tried various money-making methods on the side while she raised her children at home, but was never very successful. China became a beacon of hope, beckoning her with the possibilities of good fortune. She left her family behind, hoping to earn more money for them, but ended up losing contact all together.
Years later, she was arrested by the Chinese authorities during a church raid and was repatriated for her illegal status. After being interrogated and investigated for six months in North Korea, she was sentenced to a reeducation camp. When asked about the camp, she said “I never really knew about the concept of ‘human rights’ before I was arrested. I would read about ‘human rights’ in the newspapers when I was in China, but it wasn’t until I was sent to reeducation camp and came out that I realized there are no human rights in North Korea, not even in basic society.”
After she was released, she ran into her son on the streets of her hometown. He was grimy with mismatched clothes—a “kkotjebi” (the North Korean word for homeless children). When they met eyes, they turned away thinking it was impossible. At the last minute, they turned back to each other on the street and realized who the other really was. They embraced, crying, but ultimately had to separate again. (Her husband had passed away and with no home to go back to in North Korea, Yoo Ri couldn’t take care of her son.) Instead, she escaped again to China where she had another family and home waiting for her.
Back in China, she was terrified of going outside her house for fear that she would be caught and repatriated again. Being cooped up inside for days at a time with no one to talk to and crippling fear resulted in severe depression. She soon realized the only solution was to leave and go to South Korea for a truly free life.
Now out of China, Yoo Ri is focused on happily resettling in South Korea and thinks often about bringing her son out.