Ji Seong-ho sat down to talk with Business Insider about his 9,600 km journey from North Korea after his inspiring speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Following is a transcript of the video.
Since coming to South Korea, I’ve been living with a prosthetic arm and leg. Originally, I was missing a part of my arm and leg and it was very difficult living in North Korea with such a disability because I didn’t get any food or support from the government.
I think maybe they just wanted me to die. So I crossed the border to China and begged for food but was arrested when I returned. They confiscated everything and tortured me and heard them say things like, “cripples like you should just die.” So I decided that I should escape.
In 2006, I defected from North Korea, crossed the Duman River and travelled through China, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand for almost 10,000 km on nothing but crutches. I really think it was a miracle. I really think God helped me.
During the journey, I was so tired that I collapsed in the jungle with no one around me. Everyone who was travelling with me had abandoned me because they couldn’t take care of me. I remember lying down in that jungle, crying and I wanted to survive so that I could later help those who are in my situation.
Thankfully, I was able to get help from some people and I was able to cross the border.
Just as my life is important, everyone’s life is important. When you are arrested while defecting, you get sent back to get publicly executed in North Korea or sent to a labour camp.
So a lot of effort goes into getting one person across the border. Right now, it costs about $US2,000 for one person to defect from North Korea. It pays for food and everything else needed to make the trip and it costs that much because they aren’t taking a plane but crossing multiple countries illegally.
About 90% of the cost is funded by South Koreans and we were able to save 260 people so far. There are more people who want to defect than we can help with the money we have funded so sometimes we are forced to choose among them based on who is in a more dire situation.
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