Defector shares his story of escaping North Korea

SEOUL – The military exercises have ended, but the tensions on the Korean peninsula remain high.

Every year, a few thousand North Koreans risk their own lives to try to escape the appalling conditions there. But, not everyone makes it to freedom.

The demilitarized zone, separating North and South Korea, is only four kilometres across. It has helped maintain peace between the two countries, but it’s also the primary barrier for anyone trying to escape the repressive regime.

Thirty-one year old “Andrew” is now an economics student at Yonsei University in Seoul. But before settling in the South Korean capital, he fled the North over a frozen river and spent two years working China, in Korean enclaves along the border.

He saved up enough money to pay a smuggler to transport him overland through China, then Laos and into Thailand — where North Korean refugees are accepted.

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Had he been stopped by North Korean soldiers, or sent back by Chinese officials, the punishment for defecting could have been death.

Global’s Paul Johnson spoke with “Andrew ” about his ordeal and his new life.