North Korea is governed by an oppressive authoritarian regime that inflicts human rights abuses on its citizens. Tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled the country since the 1990s, but one North Korean defector who left the Hermit Kingdom years ago now reportedly wants to return home.
According to a report by CNN’s Will Ripley, Kim Ryon Hui believed that she would be able to live in China for a few years to undergo medical treatment, and then return to her family. So she left the country in 2011, not realizing she would be barred from returning to her upscale life at home. Eventually, Kim said, she became overwhelmed by the mounting bills for her medical treatments, and began working at a restaurant to support herself. Like all North Korean defectors, however, she lost her native passport and, later, while in search of more lucrative employment, decided to move to South Korea, where she endured yet another ordeal.
Kim has been separated from her husband, daughter, and aging parents for six years. Ripley, who has been reporting from inside North Korea in recent weeks, brought footage of Kim on Ripley’s smartphone to her family in the Hermit Kingdom. Her husband and daughter watched the video message, in which Kim told her daughter that she is “so sorry” to have left her years ago. “I really miss you. I really want to hug you,” a tearful Kim tells her daughter. Photos of North Korea’s first two supreme leaders, Kim Il sung and his son, Kim Jong il, the late father of current leader Kim Jong un, hang on the wall in their apartment.
Kim’s father, 75, and mother, 72, were also shown the video and broke down at the sight of their daughter, telling Ripley they worried time was running out, and that they might never see their daughter again. In the video, Ripley says he was taken to see Kim’s parents, but doesn’t go further into detail about how he obtained access to them. It’s likely the North Korean government had a heavy hand in making the story possible.
Kim, were she able to return home to North Korea, might face a grim fate there. Reports have suggested returning defectors are subject to torture by the unforgiving authoritarian government. Family members of other defectors have reportedly suffered extreme consequences as well. According to some reports, after a defector has escaped, the family members who remain are sometimes detained and thrown in labor camps. And defectors who have made it out alive have painted deeply disturbing portraits of life in North Korea. Two years ago at the Women in the World New York Summit, Yeonmi Park, a defector who as a 13-year-old fled North Korea alongside her mother, recounted their dramatic escape. Later in the year, at another Women in the World event, Park described the country as “the darkest place on earth.” Watch each of those interviews here and here.
Watch Ripley’s full report below.
Read the full story at CNN.