North Korean defectors Shin Dong-Hyuk and Kim Hak-Min spoke of their struggles in North Korea and their new lives in South Korea to around 200 people Sunday in Edmunds Ballroom of Pomona College.
The event was organized by Bluebird NK, which educates and shares the stories of North Korean defectors, or who illegally fled North Korea.
Defectors Shin Dong-Hyuk and Kim presented with the help of a translator.
Shin was born in a political prison camp to two prisoners. After several failed escape attempts, he fled to China in 2005, then to South Korea and he later moved to California. He said he believes that the issue of nuclear proliferation has overshadowed the issue of North Korean human rights, and the North Korean people see no progress.
“As history tells us, when we are not doing anything, people are dying, and they are going to be oppressed,” Shin said.
Shin added that the international community’s response to such human rights violations in the past have been war, and that war should not be our only option.
Kim lived in North Korea about 25 to 30 years, he said. Five years ago, he defected, moving from North Korea through China and Thailand and starting a new life in South Korea.
“I think my next defect will be South Korea and my next country will be here,” Kim joked.
He said that, during the famine in the 1990s, his mother left to China to make money to send back to her family. She was deported six times and jailed for leaving North Korea. Kim said he started to idolize the U.S. when he watched American films, which are illegal in North Korea. He worked as a TV repairman and was arrested for watching American movies. He said his sentence time was given as “not countable.”
Kim said that if humanitarian support is continually provided to the North Korean people, then the regime will eventually collapse.
John Park, Pomona College junior politics student and founder of Bluebird NK, went to North Korea in middle school on a trip organized by Hyundai. He said when buses drove through the rural parts of North Korea, workers on farms had to duck as buses passed.
“There was a field of only kids, and one of the kids was trying to look around,” Park said. “There was a little kid, I think he was with his brother. His brother had to push his head down because he wouldn’t do that. For a middle schooler, it was a lot to take in.”
Mudit Murarka, vice president of film and media for Bluebird NK, showed a clip of his work-in-progress documentary “A Flight of Goshawks.” In spring 2016, Murarka and Park went to South Korea and documented the struggles of North Korean defectors there. North Koreans struggle to learn the South Korean dialect, which leads to discrimination, and they feel nostalgic for their old homes.
“Some refugees have been born into really affluent families in Pyongyang in North Korea… some of them will feel like their lives before they came here (South Korea) might have been more comfortable at least,” Murarka said. “Whereas the other side of people were struggling to survive even on a daily basis. For them, even though there’s a strong sense of nostalgia or attachment to where they came from… their lives are so much better.”
Akira Nagao, junior economics major at Pomona College and vice president of Bluebird NK, said that as a Japanese person, he believes that the issue of human rights and nuclear proliferation in North Korea has a global impact.
“Japan is a very short boat-ride, and there is growing discussion within Japanese government in terms of this issue and what it could potentially mean to refugees, or even in terms of sleeper cell terrorist units,” Nagao said.
Jacob Lubert, junior classics major at Pomona College, attended the event with only the knowledge of nuclear proliferation in North Korea.
“The most surprising thing was that they were able to watch American, Western movies in North Korea and that that’s a commodity,” Lubert said.
Aryn Plax can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.