“North Korea is indescribable. No human deserves to be oppressed just because of their birthplace,” said prominent North Korean defector, Park Yeon-mi, at the 2014 One Young World summit in Dublin, Ireland.
Park’s recount of her harrowing journey of fleeing North Korea, which garnered over 3 million views on YouTube, resurfaced online recently. The renewed interest in her speech came right after North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, was killed in Malaysia this February.
It has been ten years since Park left the isolationist state of North Korea, recounting that fateful night as she crossed the frozen Yalu River that acts as the border between China and North Korea – only to be recaptured by Chinese soldiers. Her story from oppression to freedom is a long and heartbreaking one. However, Park’s story also faces criticism of factual inconsistency and frequent alteration.
One of the vague areas of her escape was the night when she set foot across the frozen Yalu River. In her speech at the summit, she recounts her mother and father leading her across the river, which comes up in a few interview with news site such as VICE, The Diplomat, her TED talk. However, her story changes only to include her mom in the journey, evident in her interviews with other major news sites such as with The Telegraph, BBC, and The Daily Beast. This trivial factual inconsistency only marks the beginning of several issues in Park’s story, calling her very own credibility to question.
Surprisingly, Park isn’t the first defector to have been caught having inconsistencies in her story. Many defectors likewise face the same issue, other well-known defectors include Shin Dong-Hyuk and Kwon Hyuk, both whom’s stories were criticised for inconsistencies and inaccuracies. Why would their accounts of North Korea consist such inconsistencies, given that it’s a well known fact the regime is anything but friendly? We can only deduce.
Money, most likely, is be the driving force. North Korea is a inaccessible place and in the eyes of a journalist, first-hand accounts that ratify the monstrosities of the regime are highly bankable, as accounted by Ji Young Song for The Guardian. The practice of paying refugees according to the usability of their story may have instilled the need to dramatize stories and even fabricate facts. The compiling of horrific accounts reinforces the perception of North Korea, which in turn creates a pressure upon other refugees to likewise add to the story. Reiterating the idea that North Korea is a unlivable place which violates human rights. This pressure also is accounted to being part of the effort towards enabling investigations, such as the UN into North Korea.
Although there may be other reasons behind the inconsistencies, it is coherent amongst refugees that human rights are being violated and escaping the regime is a harrowing journey. Defectors are deserving of public sympathy for what they’ve been through, and Park Yeon-mi is no exception. With refugee crisis happening around the world, as well as in Hong Kong, learning about their past and their experiences only helps us to understand them as people, and for our country to grow to adhere our changing times.
Writer: Yu Lynn Tan
Editor: Seong Hyeon Choi (Vincent)
Copy Editors: Gene Lin
Online Team: Zoe Law