Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A tale of one North Korean family

Seated between the legs of her mother, the little girl turns the pages of a magazine with the unskilled hands of a four year-old. She counts them aloud, and, at the end, she takes the magazine and holds it tight against her, lifting her head smiling. Then her empty eyes appear: she is blind.

At first we can only see the top of the head a nearby teenager, then a little more: he is sitting on a mat, shoulders sunk, knees under the chin. Then the camera shows his feet: he has no toes. They froze while spending some time in jail. He is 15.

The blind girl arrived in China with her mother and brother to meet their father from whom they had been separated [for 3 years. The father] came to China for the first time to seek help from humanitarian organizations, the mother had to sell everything the family owned and was left to scavenge for food with her infant daughter. "We ate like beggars: herbs, roots, but then we felt nauseous and had diarrhea," she told us. Malnourished, she was never able to lactate, and the little girl, fed boiled corn, became blind when she was 8 months old.

Her brother, along with their father, was captured, tied up and repatriated to the DPRK. The teenager was detained in a camp in Onsong, a mining town near the border. It was winter (temperatures hovered around -10 to -15° C and the camp had no heating), and he did not have shoes; after a few days his toes froze.

The images of these two North Korean children are part of some five hours of recorded video testimony of hunger migrants, collected on the Chinese side of the Sino-Korean border by a humanitarian organization that we shall not identify for security reasons. The thirty or so interviews, of which more than half come from refugees that have crossed the Tumen river (demarcating the border) since the beginning of this year, reveal aspects of life under the rule of the last Stalinist regime on the planet.

[Excerpt of an article by Philippe Pons, Le Monde]

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