Six North Korean defectors — the first refugees the U.S. has admitted from the totalitarian nation — arrived in Southern California on Saturday bearing accounts of famine, sexual enslavement, torture and repression.
The group was met at Los International Airport by leaders of four large Korean congregations in Southern California, all members of the Korean Church Coalition, which has pushed the government to take in North Korean refugees.
They hugged each of the refugees and handed them bouquets of fresh flowers as they emerged near the baggage area, accompanied by Chun Ki Won, the missionary who helped them escape via an underground railroad through China and Southeast Asia.
Before leaving the airport, church leaders joined hands with the defectors and prayed for North Koreans still living in the hermit kingdom or hiding in China.
"This is the moment we've been hoping and praying for for years," said Sam Kim, a lawyer and member of the Bethel Korean Church in Irvine.
Although it's not certain where the group will settle, church members have offered to help the defectors start new lives in California, home to the largest number of Koreans outside the Korean peninsula.
[Excerpt of an article by Valerie Reitman, L.A. Times]