North Korean refugee Eunsun Kim: – My father starved to death | 2013 interview | SVT/NRK/Skavlan

North Korean refugee Eunsun Kim: – My father starved to death | 2013 interview | SVT/NRK/Skavlan


Here she is, arriving from her new home in South Korea … Please welcome Eunsun Kim! Welcome to London! Thank you. And to a Scandinavian television show. It’s very great to be here! You’ve told your story, actually, in your own book. Yes. And it’s called «North Korea – Nine years escape from hell». I wonder, as a kid growing up in North Korea … … what did you know about the world outside? Actually, we didn’t know much about the outside world. Yeah. Because when you’re in North Korea, the North Korean government doesn’t allow us to know about other countries. And the information from other countries cannot come into North Korea. They strongly control the … The North Korean government strongly control the North Korean people. So we didn’t know much about other countries. The countries we know are Cuba, China, Russia, Japan … … The United States and those kind of countries. How would they describe the American people? Actually, we don’t know … I never met an American when I was in North Korea. But we thought they had a big nose, green eyes, yellow hair … Green eyes? Green eyes. Blue eyes? Yeah, something … So big nose, green eyes, yellow hair? So to us, Americans were one shape, yeah. You could be an American to a North Korean! I don’t have a big nose?! It’s a normal nose! Would you know about celebrities, would you know about Sting? Before I didn’t know about him. But I researched before I came here! So you had to google before you came here? Yeah! Sorry! What was school like? When I was young, before the age of ten … I actually had a very normal life in North Korea, I think. We just went to school, studied in school and went home, something like that. But there is something very special about school in North Korea. From elementary school. We had to watch executions from we were nine or ten years old. You had to watch executions? Yes. As a part of the education? Yes. I remember one day I went to the elementary school … And the teacher said, «we will not have class today, because we have to go to watch the execution». So it’s … Just nine year old kids, students … And how did they do that? Was it like … … many people executed, or one person executed, or ..? Normally, two or three people were executed. Yeah, so … Like shocked, or hanged ..? Yeah, shocked. And you had to watch it? Yeah, we had to watch all the things that happened during the executions. So … Why? It’s … I think the government wants to control people. So that the people are afraid of their government. So it’s easy to control people, and people will think … «Oh, I don’t want to be like them.» «So I’ll have to follow what the government says.» Watching … … your first execution as a nine year old, can you remember how you reacted? Actually, the first time I felt something very uncomfortable in my mind. But I could not say that to people, because … What the government does is «right». If I say something, like «they shouldn’t do this» or «we shouldn’t watch this» … Maybe I would get caught, or my parents would get caught. Because that’s the «right thing». The government does that. And when you see it twice or three times, you cannot feel anything. It’s just what’s normal. So I say that … The North Korean government even controls people’s minds. Towards the end of the 90s … … North Korea was hit by a famine. Yes. And your family too. Can you try to describe the hunger … … you felt? Yes. My father also passed away because of the starvation. I didn’t have any food for six days. After six days, my mom came back home. However, she didn’t bring any food. So my mom said: «Let’s die together». Yeah. We decided several times to die. … That we were going to die. But, you know … Instead, she decided that you were going to escape. Yes, before we escaped. Because … Because, I said, in North Korea there is not a lot of information. So we didn’t know that much about China at that time. So we didn’t know, if we escaped to China, if we would have enough food. We didn’t know that. However, after that … … one friend of my mother said that «if you go to China, there are many biscuits and candy, so you will not go hungry!». So yeah, that’s why mom mom decided … After she decided to die … And then we couldn’t die, it wasn’t easy! And then she decided to escape to China. As I understand, the village where you lived was quite close to the border. The Chinese border, the North border? Yes. But how did you escape, how did you get over the border? I mean, that must have been very difficult? We had to cross the Tumen river to get to China. And are there guards as well? Yes, there are a lot of guards. And some of them were shot at the Tumen river. The border guards will say «stop», and if they don’t stop, the border guards will shoot. Yeah. So some of them died when they crossed the Tumen river. But you actually made it. Yeah, we made it. And when you made it into China, you … You met a woman. Yes. And she wanted to help you. Yes. The first time, we thought that she was a very nice woman. Because she seemed to really cared about us. And she gave us a way to live in China. She said to my mom that she had to marry a Chinese man. «It’s the only way you can survive and be safe in China», she said. The man would pay for school for us. And … Yes. She said that, and my mom agreed with her. And my mom also thought that that could be the only way to survive in China. However … There was one thing we didn’t know: we were sold. She got the money from the Chinese man … And she sold us for 2000 yuan. Yes. Like slavery? Yes. So you were sold to a farmer. Yes. And … He … He also forced your mother to have a child with him. Yes. The purpose he had was to have a … To get a baby, yes. That was his purpose. So you actually got a brother. Yes. I have a brother in China now. Yes. That’s one of the sad things that we haven’t solved yet. My brother is in China. Because you and your mother escaped from the farmer, right? Yes. And … But living in China, you … As I understand, you were always afraid of the police? Yes, of course. Even when we came to South Korea, when we heard the sirens ringing, our hearts would beat very fast. We know the police will not catch us, but … It’s kind of like we’re accustomed to it … I don’t know. To us, the sirens mean the police and they’re going to catch us. Even when we were safe in South Korea. When the sirens ring, our hearts beat very fast. Not without reason, because you were actually caught again, by the police … … and sent back to North Korea? Yes. After we had lived in China for three years. Were you punished when you went back there? How did they treat you? I say that we were … We were human trash when we were sent back to North Korea. As many people know, North Korea has no human rights. But we were worse … They treated us just like human trash. But then … Now you were back in North Korea, but then you decided to escape again. Yes. And you managed to? Yes. Into China, again … And you ended up in Shanghai? Yes. And … … lived there as illegal people in China. And after some years there … Another long escape. You went to South Korea. I completely understand, because you wanted an identity, you wanted a passport, you wanted to be a legal person. Was that the main reason you went there? Yes. When we escaped North Korea, we just wanted food. But when we escaped … But when we went to South Korea, we wanted freedom. We wanted to have an identity card. What are your dreams for the future? Actually, I want to be a child psychologist. But I will find a job first. Because my mom, she’s not young, she’s very old, and she goes to work every day. And after finishing her job, she’s always in pain everywhere. So I say to her «please, don’t work so hard». And she says … «If I don’t work, where does the money come from?» «After you find a job, I will quit my job.» So … So I have to find a job first, to get money. But I have another dream … I have another sister. And she and I … … are not good daughters to my father. After he passed away, we have never visited him. We couldn’t. So … You never visited his grave? Yes. So I just hope the unification comes quickly … … so I can go to North Korea to say hi to my father. We are not good daughters. Eunsun, thank you so much for sharing this very important story with us. Thank you so much.

5 Replies to “North Korean refugee Eunsun Kim: – My father starved to death | 2013 interview | SVT/NRK/Skavlan

  1. And we, in our free countries, complain when we think there isn’t enough good tv to watch. This is a lesson for us….if you are free to even just choose a tv channel or surf the internet, be thankful for the opportunity to do whatever you want and find joy in all the ways we can. There are millions of people who would literally risk dying while trying to have a shot at a life we may call mundane. Be thankful and remember their struggle. Great interview Skavlan. We all need this injection of world reality from time to time.

  2. Brave strong girl! It's so touching her last comment… I wish someone responded back that her and her sister are absolutely not bad daughters. Quite the opposite, they were able to save themselves and I'm sure the father would be very proud and want that for her! ❤️ Going to read the book about Eunsun since I'm very interested in her story. She's a hero.

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