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Sunday, April 18, 2021

North Korea defector to run for office in UK first

Sixteen years after she was left to die outside a labor camp in North Korea, Jihyun Park could be about to make British history.

By: Deutsche Welle |
March 26, 2021 3:37:15 pm
Jihyun ParkJihyun Park (Reuters)

A former teacher who fled North Korea and eventually found a life in the UK is set to run for office in upcoming local elections.

Jihyun Park will enter the British political history books if she wins a seat in local elections in early May.

She is standing as a candidate for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party in the northern English town of Bury.

Jihyun Park’s remarkable story

Park first left North Korea in 1998 with her brother after they witnessed their father and uncle starve to death in a famine that swept the secretive country.

However, she was trafficked to a Chinese man who kept her “like a slave,” she told DW in 2015. They had one child together.

She was unable to claim asylum status in China, a country that has close ties to North Korea, and was eventually arrested and taken back to North Korea in 2004, leaving her son behind. She was sent to a forced labor camp to carry out work under harsh conditions.

But she got a second chance to escape. Park contracted gangrene at the prison camp, causing prison guards to send her home believing that she would die.

She fled once more to China to be reunited with her son before traveling on to Mongolia. She was helped by a kind stranger who later became her husband.

In 2007, a Korean pastor in Beijing put them in touch with the United Nations, which relocated the family to Britain.

She has lived in Bury since 2008. She now spends her time helping other refugees from North Korea adjust to life in Britain.

Repaying kindness

“We had a lot of problems [at first] because we didn’t speak English,” Park told news agency Reuters, adding that the local council was very helpful.

Additionally, “people [were] really nice to us, so they gave us lots of gifts, and that’s why today my family is [living] here.”

“I want to pay back this debt of gifts to the residents,” Park explained.

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