North Korean defector runs for election in Britain, seeks to make political history


Sixteen years after she was left for dead outside a North Korean prison camp, Jihyun Park hopes to make political history this week when she runs for election in Britain.

“When I came to the UK, many people helped: they welcomed me, they taught me English,” she told Fox News. “I want to pay back this gift.”

Park is standing to be a councilor in Bury, a former industrial town in northern England where she was resettled as a refugee in 2008.

If elected, she believes she would be the first North Korean defector to hold political office in the West.

Jihyun Park, who fled North Korea before settling in Britain, poses for a photograph after deciding to stand for election as a Conservative party candidate in the upcoming local elections in the Moorside Ward in Bury, Britain.

Jihyun Park, who fled North Korea before settling in Britain, poses for a photograph after deciding to stand for election as a Conservative party candidate in the upcoming local elections in the Moorside Ward in Bury, Britain.
(REUTERS/Phil Noble)

In an interview at her home, she recounted an astonishing life story.

Having watched her uncle die of starvation during the famine that ravaged North Korea in the 1990s, her father urged her to leave the country.

One night in 1998, she crossed into China under the cover of darkness.

“Soldiers shouted at us and [we heard] gunfire, but we continued across the border because we wanted to survive,” she said.

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She fell into the hands of human traffickers, and was sold to a Chinese man who used her for labor and sex.

“I wanted to give up my life,” she said. “My life was really slavery.

“But one day I found out that I was pregnant, so I changed my mind, because the child is my last family and he maybe gave me another chance.”

She hid her pregnancy and gave birth alone.

Five years later, Park was arrested as an illegal immigrant and deported to North Korea, without her son.

“My nightmares came true,” she said. “They arrested me in front of my child. I begged, ‘Please, I want to say some words to my son.’ But they never allowed me.”

Back in North Korea, she was imprisoned at a labor camp, but became seriously ill with a leg injury and was freed.

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“The police said, ‘You cannot die inside the camp. You die outside anyway.’ So they released me.”

After a couple months recuperating, she made the dangerous crossing into China for a second time.

She was reunited with her child, and joined a group of North Koreans attempting to reach neighboring Mongolia.

That effort failed, but Park was helped along the way by a man in the group. The pair became an item are now married.

If elected, Jihyun Park believes she would be the first North Korean defector to hold political office in the West.

If elected, Jihyun Park believes she would be the first North Korean defector to hold political office in the West.
(REUTERS/Phil Noble)

The couple moved to Beijing, where a Korean-American pastor put them in touch with the United Nations. They were granted asylum in England.

“In the UK, we were a totally different nationality, different cultures, different languages, but they accepted us,” she said.

“I want to pay back this gift in the UK,” she added. “So that’s why I stand in this election.”

On the campaign trail in Bury, where she is a candidate for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative party, Park said voters rarely seek to talk about the country of her birth, and show little interest in global diplomatic tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

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Instead, they want to know what she plans to do about improving garbage disposal services.

“People chat to us about the bin collection problems, and the dirty streets, and also road safety. Everything,” she said. “And I write it down, in my notes.”

She added, “I already made my dreams here: a happy family, a happy life. And I finally found my freedoms here.

“Now I want to bring another person’s dreams.”

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