A North Korean woman who escaped to the South says she wishes could return to the North to die.
She and several defectors told Bloomberg of the difficulties they faced after reaching South Korea.
More than 33,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since 1998.
A North Korean woman who defected to the South in 2017 now says she wishes she could return to the North and "die there."
"I am so lonely. I want to go back and die there — South Korea is as suffocating as the North," she told Bloomberg's Sangmi Cha and Jon Herskovitz.
The woman, identified only by her last name due to safety concerns, said she could only bring one of her sons with her to South Korea. When her family realized they didn't have enough funds for all of them to flee, her eldest son volunteered to stay behind, she told Bloomberg.
He was beaten to death when the North Korean authorities learned Lee had escaped, she said.
Her account of life in the South is an indicator that escaping Kim Jong Un's regime doesn't guarantee a smooth-sailing life post-defection. But in contrast, North Korea has one of the world's worst human rights records, and its people struggle with famine and intense food insecurity.
Another defector interviewed by Bloomberg, 51-year-old Im Su-ryuh, spoke of homesickness and missing her family.
"I often cry because I miss the family I left behind," she said, per Bloomberg. "It's been about three years, but I still dream about North Korea."
"I should have brought my mother's clothes so I can smell her," said Im, according to the outlet.
She escaped North Korea through China and traveled through Laos and Thailand, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. To secure her escape route to South Korea, Im ended up paying a broker around 10 years of the average North Korean's salary, per Bloomberg.
Despite being homesick, she called Seoul a "heaven on earth" because she receives money and rice from the South Korean government every month, per the outlet.
More than 33,000 people have defected from North Korea to South Korea since 1998, CNN reported in 2022, citing the Ministry of Unification.
Several defectors have become globally famous, such as Ji Seong-ho, a double amputee who became a politician in Seoul after escaping the North. He was invited multiple times to appear at events in Washington, D.C., and was given a standing ovation during then-President Donald Trump's State of the Union address in 2018.
But the same success has been elusive for many North Koreans in the South. A survey of 131 refugee entrepreneurs from North Korea by Asian Foundation found that 53.4% said they had trouble making a living because they lack the financial capital, or don't have the business acumen or skills to compete in the South.
Many North Korean defectors are also often lonely because they escaped without their families, can be suspicious of outsiders, and tend not to live together in groups, according to a 2000 study in the Yonsei Medical Journal.
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