During his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Trump took the opportunity to highlight the dire conditions faced by the average North Korean. He recognized the bravery of North Korean refugee Ji Seong-ho, who escaped the country against all odds.
President Trump said in his speech:
In 1996, Seong-ho was a starving boy in North Korea. One day, he tried to steal coal from a railroad car to barter for a few scraps of food. In the process, he passed out on the train tracks, exhausted from hunger. He woke up as a train ran over his limbs. He then endured multiple amputations without anything to dull the pain. His brother and sister gave what little food they had to help him recover and ate dirt themselves — permanently stunting their own growth. Later, he was tortured by North Korean authorities after returning from a brief visit to China. His tormentors wanted to know if he had met any Christians. He had — and he resolved to be free.
Seong-ho traveled thousands of miles on crutches across China and Southeast Asia to freedom. Most of his family followed. His father was caught trying to escape, and was tortured to death.
Today he lives in Seoul, where he rescues other defectors, and broadcasts into North Korea what the regime fears the most — the truth.
Today he has a new leg, but Seong-ho, I understand you still keep those crutches as a reminder of how far you have come. Your great sacrifice is an inspiration to us all.
Seong-ho’s story is a testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom.
— Victims of Communism (@VoCommunism) January 31, 2018
Mr. Seong-ho is one of a lucky handful of North Koreans who have been able to escape the grip of the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang. His incredible journey to freedom, and the severe price he and his family paid to break free from the Kim Jong Un regime, reflects the reality of what it takes for the average North Korean to leave the country.
Other than ultra-rare instances, most North Koreans flee the country through China. Given the massive poverty in the country, it is sometimes possible to bribe border guards with gifts or cash. There are also several underground smuggling organizations that operate quietly within China. Some are profit-minded, while others are motivated by human rights causes.
— Bryan Harris (@bryanhimself) July 12, 2017
Crossing into China is only the first step of the journey. North Koreans may be able to find basic work in southern China, but this generally leads to less than ideal conditions, given the language barrier and other factors. China is only the beginning of what is likely to be a journey of thousands of miles – sometimes taken mostly on foot – to freedom.
In addition to a common language, South Korea has an advanced welfare and resettlement system for North Koreans, which makes it much the preferred destination for refugees. North Koreans are propagandized from birth to believe in a certain worldview, and it takes extensive encouragement and patience to help them psychologically rid themselves of this full-scale brainwashing. Given their Stalinist upbringing, many North Koreans need to learn basic social etiquette as citizens of a free society. They also struggle with physical and mental ailments from their time in the North, making the welfare system essential for refugees who come to the country without a cent in their pockets.
Ji Seong-ho’s triumphant moment at the State of The Union represents the harrowing journey so many North Koreans take in pursuit of freedom. As the leader of the free world, President Trump gave voice to the others fighting to secure their unalienable rights and break free from some of the world’s most tyrannical regimes.