For North Korean Refugees, an 'Underground Railroad'

'GQ' takes a look at the network through the stories of 2 key people
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 26, 2019 9:44 AM CDT
Updated Mar 31, 2019 4:05 PM CDT
Meet the 'Oskar Schindler' of North Korean Refugees
In this file photo, North Korean army soldiers head to inspect a dismantled South Korean guard post inside the Demilitarized Zone as a South Korean army soldier stands guard in the inter-Korean border in Cheorwon.   (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, Pool)

North Koreans trying to escape the hardship of their homeland often rely on what's come to be known as the North Korean Underground Railroad. GQ has a lengthy story providing a look at how this network of safe havens across Asia operates, and the story by Doug Bock Clark focuses on the tales of two people in particular. One is "Faith," a woman born in the late 1970s in North Korea who fled across the border to China several years ago with help from unscrupulous smugglers. They did not belong to the Underground Railroad, and Faith ended up in a kind of servitude in China, married off to a farmer and closely watched. Then she got in touch with the Underground Railroad, and particularly a man named "Stephen Kim," who goes by the nicknames of "Superman" and the "Oskar Schindler of North Korea." (Clark notes that others share the latter nickname.)

The piece details Faith's secret journey, with Kim's guidance, into Vietnam, then Cambodia, then to a South Korean embassy, and finally to Seoul, South Korea, where she now lives with her two children, who made the journey with her. It also details Kim's own story, from bankrupt businessman to crusader for North Korean refugees. But things get messy: There are accusations of Kim misappropriating money from a group that supports such rescues, something he adamantly denies, plus a general sense that Kim, er, embellishes. Clark investigates: "Ultimately ... what impressed me was that the foundations of his stories seemed true," he writes. "Everything I have written above was attested to by at least two sources, and Kim's exaggerations seemed essentially benign: a man embellishing an already incredible tale, perhaps out of pride or to push a cause he fervently believed in." Read the full story. (More North Korea stories.)

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