Friday, May 19, 2006

Hannah, North Korean refugee recently admitted to the U.S.

"My husband was an officer in the army," she begins, and "I was a teacher."

Her husband was seriously injured in a military exercise that left him unable to work. Without his salary, the family had difficulty making ends meet, so when the mother of one of Hannah's students offered her 300 won (about $136) to travel with her to a town along the Chinese border to pick up the fabric she used in her clothing business, Hannah accepted the job.

At the North Korean border town, the women were invited to dinner at the home of the middleman who was selling them the fabric. Halfway through the meal, Hannah fell asleep--there was a narcotic in the food--and she woke up later in a dark basement. "I was tied up," she says, "but I could hear my friend say, 'Teacher, I think we've been sold.' " They were no longer in North Korea, but in China.

“How can this happen?. . . What would happen to my family, my child? . . . I felt like I was living in hell." She was soon sold to a farmer for 20,000 Chinese yuan, or $2,500.

North Korean "brides" are prized in China, where there is a shortage of young women thanks to Beijing's one-child policy, Chinese families' preference for sons, and the government's blind eye toward rampant female infanticide.

A North Korean in China--even one who is there against her own volition--quickly learns that there is a worse fate than being sold into sexual slavery: being captured by the Chinese authorities and repatriated. It is a crime to leave the North, and Koreans who are sent back end up in prison camps or worse. "I had no choice but to depend on the man" who bought her, Hannah says. But "for the first time in my life, I felt like a sinner, because I had a family in North Korea and I was living with this man."

Hannah's new "husband" beat her--once breaking her breastbone. He would threaten to kill her or turn her over to the police. "North Koreans like you are easier to kill than a chicken," he once told her. Hannah soon found herself pregnant, praying that her husband's abuse would cease once she gave him a child.

His behavior did not improve after the birth of their daughter, leading Hannah to consider suicide. But "I have two children, one in North Korea, one in China. . . . How sad my daughters would be to know that they didn't have a mother. I decided I had to live for my daughters."

That led to the decision to run away from her Chinese husband. He "had no other children, and he really did love the child, and he treated her well." She spoke to her mother-in-law and persuaded her to take care of her daughter until she came back. "So I left when my daughter was asleep." A missionary helped Hannah get to Beijing, where she connected with the underground railroad. It was more difficult to blend in in Beijing, where there were few ethnic Koreans, and Hannah was afraid she would be captured. "It's unspeakable, the fear."

Our interview over, Hannah relaxes and begins to talk about her first few days in America. "[I] still do feel lonely," says Hannah, "but my heart feels free."

[Excerpts of an article by Melanie Kirkpatrick, The Wall Street Journal]

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