Yeonmi Park’s Harrowing Journey to Freedom

In the current climate of fear and concern over the movement of refugees into Europe and the risks they undergo, Yeonmi Park, a slender and delicate young woman is her early twenties, is an eloquent reminder of just how harrowing such an experience can be. In her autobiographical account of escape from North Korea, Yeonmi describes what it’s like to be driven by starvation to flee one’s country, to be trafficked and sexually abused, and to be sold and traded like cattle. Yeonmi is a political activist who speaks out about the plight of the North Korean people, but whose suffering is also a relevant reminder of the struggles of others.

A recent article at Reason.com (https://reason.com/blog/2015/11/15/yeonmi-parks-north-korean-defector-story) reviewed Yeonmi’s journey out of North Korea to final freedom in Seoul. It’s a harrowing account. In 2007, Yeonmi and her mother put themselves into the hand of a trafficker who got them across the Yalu River, which forms the border between China and North Korea. Their trials had only begun. Yeonmi’s father, a political prisoner recently released, joined his wife and daughter after several months, spirited out by the man who had promised to fetch Yeonmi’s father at the price of her becoming his concubine. But her father was suffering from untreated lung cancer, and died soon after. Left alone in a strange land, Yeomi and her mother moved on through the Gobi Desert and across to Mongolia. They were sold and traded, but whenever arrested, they threatened suicide. Eventually, however, they found some Christian missionaries who were able to transport them to Seoul . Arrived there, Yeonmi was able to finish high school and begin her university education.
Since then, Yeonmi Park has emerged as an outspoken proponent of human rights in North Korea. She has written for the Washington Post, and interviews with her have appeared in the New York Times and other newspapers. She has spoken at a number of conferences devoted to global human rights. Yeonmi’s book about her escape from North Korea was published by Penguin in 2015. Entitled In Order to Live: A North-Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, the book has been enthusiastically received. However, the North Korean government has responded very negatively, even issuing a video claiming that Yeonmi is a “puppet” of the West.