Price of Freedom Soaring

I Want to See my Daughters as Soon as Possible

By Pak Sung Hee (alias), a Former NK Refugee

I once lived in Chongjin, North Hamgyong.  From the 1990’s (the time of the “Arduous March”) through early 2000 we experienced severe starvation.  I realized that my whole family would starve to death if something didn’t change, so I crossed the Tumen River into China to bring back food.  I bitterly regret, however, that I was never able to make it back to Chongjin where my family was waiting for me.

My father is Japanese, and my mother was an ethnic Korean resident of Japan.  Years earlier my parents had believed the propaganda claiming that North Korea was a Paradise on Earth. So, together, they immigrated to North Korea.

When I determined to go to China for food, I tried to reach my mother staying in Hoeryong, which is a town in the border area of North Korea and China. There I discovered that she had already left for China.  I crossed into China also, seeking my mother, but could not find her. I had absolutely no idea where she was.  It took me seven years before I finally reunited with her.

It was impossible for all of our family members to safely escape together from North Korea.  Survival was our top priority, so we had no choice but to accept the separation.

I am the eldest daughter.  In 2008, my second younger sister received official permission to enter Japan.  There, after ten years, my mother was finally reunited with all three of her daughters.

What preys most heavily on my mind is that I had to leave my two little daughters in my hometown Chongjin.  Not a single day passes that I don’t think about them.  My tears have dried up, but I have sworn that I will bring my daughters to Japan.  This motivates me to work my 13-hour shift every day in a Korean restaurant in Tokyo.

Apparently, the Korean restaurant intentionally disregards the Labor Standards Act, and the extremely long working hours are nothing unusual there.  The overwork has recently caused me an arm problem.  But, I have to be careful not to get sick, otherwise I would be a burden to my children when they finally make it to Japan.  On the other hand, I am obsessed with the idea that I must save enough money to help them as soon as possible.

I understand that it has become extremely difficult to cross the border now because of the much stricter border patrols.  There are even reports that North Korean border guards who accept bribes to let North Korea escapees cross the border have been executed.

I also hear that it now costs $10,000 to $20,000, even as much as $30,000 US dollars to secretly cross the border.  That huge amount of money is absolutely beyond my capability.  I have no idea what to do.

My 80 year-old mother in law originally came from Akita, in the Northern part of Japan.  She has neither the physical nor the mental strength to escape North Korea.  There is no hope for her to come back to Japan alive.  I feel so sad for her.  I owe her so much, but I cannot do anything for her in return.  I am sure she misses her hometown, but there is nothing the Japanese government can do to help her return to her homeland.  It breaks my heart to imagine her dying in despair.