Glancing nervously out a window in this border city, [North Korean refugee] Kim Jong-chol said he'd commit suicide if the police threatened him with repatriation.
"I have no choice if I'm arrested. I can't go back to North Korea now," Kim said, explaining that he'd confront criminal charges, and probably execution, as someone who'd fled to China twice before, been caught both times and forcibly repatriated.
Asked to explain what life is like in his homeland, Kim said quietly: "You will never understand what I'm telling you. It's such a miserable situation." Kim, a farmer, said his family's home had no indoor plumbing. In winter, there was never enough heat. For most people, food supplies are inadequate. The children always ask for more food, Kim said, describing the daily diet as mostly boiled or mashed corn. Electricity was on for three hours a day at most, and the family had to fetch water from far away.
"Rice rations have stopped, and there's no guarantee you can get your wage," Kim said. Any criticism of the regime is kept to very intimate friends or family. "Many people disappear for making the wrong remarks," he said.
Kim said he hoped to reach a safe area outside China, then "I will work like a slave to earn money to bring my wife and children out of North Korea."