Only an insider or a defector can provide answers to what's happening in North Korea, how's Kim Jong Un regime, and details about human rights violations in the world's most secretive nation. A defector who escaped North Korea years ago opened up about what it was like growing up in a country under a dictator's rule.
Yeonmi Park, who escaped North Korea in 2007 and made it to the U.S., has recalled her horrific past "eating insects" and seeing dead bodies on the street. The 26-year-old human rights activist spoke up about what it was like being raised "completely purged from the rest of the world," under Kim's rule.
"What you need to know about North Korea is that" it is not like other nations such as Cuba or Iran, said Yeonmi. She told the New York Post in a recent interview that in those countries, "you have some kind of understanding that they are abnormal, they are isolated and the people are not safe." But North Korea has been "completely purged from the rest of the world, it's literally a Hermit Kingdom."
Dictator Is 'God'
At the age of 13, Yeonmi fled to China with her mother in search of freedom. She did not know that she was "isolated" from the world, and had no idea about the fact that "I was praying to a dictator."
While growing up, she and her sister Eunmi were taught that North Korea's late leader Kim Jong Il and his son Kim Jong Un were "Gods," and had the power to read people's thoughts, making citizens afraid to speak against the regime.
She said that in school, children are taught to count using metrics like "American bastards." The school students are also forced to do "criticism sessions" where they attack and find faults in their classmates. As per Yeonmi, the concept of friends doesn't exist in North Korea, instead, "We only have comrades."
A Starving Nation
A report by United Nations has revealed that North Koreans are trapped in a vicious cycle of deprivation, corruption, repression, and endemic bribery, while another UN report stated that around 40 percent of the country's population—over 10 million people—are starving and face severe food shortage.
In July reports claimed that North Korean citizens were forced to eat terrapins due to food shortage. Later, in August, North Korea's premier ordered people to hand over their pet dogs so they can be killed and sold for meat as a solution to the food crisis.
Yeonmi also faced a similar situation when she was living in North Korea and said while growing up she needed to eat insects. She put the blame on the Kim family for letting their people starve to death, as her uncle and grandfather both died due to malnutrition.
"You'd see so many people just dying. It was something normal for us to see the dead bodies on the street. It was a normal thing for me. I never thought that was something unusual," said Yeonmi.
There are slums in other places of the world where she visited but "nothing is like North Korea because North Korean starvation, it's systematic starvation by a country that chose to starve us."
She said the rogue regime spends billions of dollars to make nuclear missile test system but if they would spend just 20 percent of what they spent on making nuclear weapons, none of the North Koreans would have to die from hunger. "But the regime chose to make us hungry," she added.
Yeonmi and her mother escaped North Korea by crossing over the Yalu River, which was frozen at that time. After fleeing the country, the struggle did not end there as her mother was raped by human traffickers and both were sold to Chinese men.
They tried to search for Yeonmi's sister who had fled North Korea earlier. Yeonmi's father managed to escape the country too but later he died of colon cancer. Later, they made it to Mongolia, crossing the Gobi Desert, and reunited with sister Eunmi in South Korea. Yeonmi made her transition to New York in 2014 and started speaking out against Kim's regime despite risk to her own safety.
Meanwhile, many of her relatives went missing in North Korea. Yeonmi told the New York Post, "I don't know if they've been executed or sent to prison camps, so I'm still not free. Even after I went through all of that to be free, I'm not free to dictators there."
She wrote a book, which was published in 2016, along with her co-author Maryanne Vollers. In the prologue, she wrote, "I am most grateful for two things: that I was born in North Korea, and that I escaped from North Korea."