Incredible journey leads family to freedom

Seoul - A family of 17, the largest group of North Korean defectors since the Korean War, arrived in Seoul yesterday, six weeks after beginning an epic escape through China and Hong Kong.

The band of men, women and young children included a security guard whose job was to stop such defections through the wild and remote North Korea-China border.

Their incredible journey was financed by relatives in the United States. They sent money so that the family could pay guides to protect them during a month-long trek, which started on 26 October and covered the length of China.

The band passed from one safe house to another among two million ethnic Koreans in China, posing as a group of travelling rural labourers and occasionally working in the fields. On 23 November, they were smuggled into Hong Kong and yesterday made the three-hour flight to freedom to Kimpo Airport in the South Korean capital, Seoul

When Kim Kyong-ho, the 62-year-old patriarch of the group, met the brother he had not seen since the height of the 1950-53 Korean War, he exclaimed loudly: "Older Brother." Kim Kyong-tae, 70, embraced him and said the pair were separated in the war. Kim Kyong-ho, now missing half his left index finger, ended up in North Korea as confusion reigned at the end of the conflict. He told how he was persecuted there for his South Korean roots.

Kim Kyong-tae said: "I didn't know if my younger brother was dead or alive. I'd heard rumours he was in the US. But when I saw pictures of the family ... I knew that it was him."

The only person missing was Choi Yong-do, the father of Kim's wife, Choi Hyon-sil. From New York, he organised the money for the group to bribe their way through China and into Hong Kong.

The escape was a propaganda coup for South Korea, but there was nervous speculation about how Seoul would cope if the defection was the start of a refugee surge from impoverished North Korea, where floods have caused a year-long famine. An uncontrolled refugee exodus is part of a nightmare scenario for Seoul, which would be left to pick up the pieces at a cost of billions of dollars.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border