Interview with a Former NK Refugee

His Dream Is to Own a Yakitori Restaurant
~ Kim Chun Gun, NK refugee ~

As part of its activities, LFNKR supports resettlement of North Koreans in Japan after helping them safely reach this country. Here is the first chapter of a series of true stories relating the experiences of former North Korean refugees working to start a new life in Japan.

Surviving “the hardship march”

Kim Chun Gun (male), now 26, escaped from North Korea eight years ago. His journey was prompted by the “hardship march” in North Korea.

It has been reported that several million people died of starvation during the mid-1990s in North Korea. At that time, the North Korean government appealed to its people to accept the “hardship march.” Kim Chun Gun survived that campaign, but he was not sure how longer he would be able to survive in North Korea. Finally he decided to escape to China. In China, he first worked at a Karaoke shop. After the Karaoke shop went out of business, he worked at a Korean restaurant and stayed at the house of a friend who was working at a clothing shop.

Then, he met Lee Chun Hwa, a Chinese-Korean girl. Kim Chun Gun and Lee Chun Hwa smiled when they found that they share the same middle name. Romantic interest grew, and eventually they decided to marry. Kim Chun Gun told her that his father, an ethnic Korean born in Kobe Prefecture, Japan, had moved to North Korea many years ago, lured by the “Paradise on Earth” propaganda. He repeatedly told her about his dream of eventually going to Japan to live there, since his father’s hometown is in Japan.

While he continued passionately telling Chun Hwa of his dream, he was unable to earn much money toward the realization of that dream, since he had no legitimate status in China. Fortunately, however, Chun Hwa’s mother liked him and offered financial support so that the two could start a new life in Japan.

Paid 8,000 RMB to buy a Chinese ID

Chun Gun bought an ID from a Chinese man about the same age, a man who was highly unlikely to ever leave China. He paid 8,000 RMB (about 1,200 USD) from the money he had saved while working in China. After getting the ID, he first applied for his passport and then went to the Japanese Consulate in Shenyang where he received a visa to come to Japan.

This is how he made it to Japan. As soon as Chun Gun and Chun Hwa reached Japan, Chun Gun began commuting to a school to learn the Japanese language. It was not an easy life. After studying at the school during the daytime, he and his wife worked at a Japanese style pub every night to earn a living. Although their new life was tough, they were feeling that they could realize their dream.

Am I going to be repatriated and executed?

While they worked hard and steadily saved money, overwork caused Chun Gun to develop back problems. Due to accumulated fatigue on top of his back problem, he started to skip school. After 6 months, when it came time to register for the second semester, he found that the school would not endorse the renewal of his visa because he had been absent so much. This is a serious situation. He could have been sent back to China. Once repatriated to China, his illegal passport could easily be discovered. He would then be sent to North Korea. If repatriated to North Korea, he would be a highly likely candidate for public execution. he would be the victim of the death squad. He was once forced to witness a public execution. His dream seemed about to disappear down the drain.

Chun Gun had only 1 month left before his visa expired. He decided to contact Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR), his last hope.

Kim Chun Gun’s story continued in part 2

Interviewed by Kato Hiroshi
Exec. Dir. of LFNKR