She escaped from North Korea twice, and now she’s running for office in the U.K.

TORONTO —
A woman who escaped North Korea twice and found peace in the north of England is looking to give back to her adopted community by running for office.

Jihyun Park was born in North Korea, but now lives in Bury, England and says the difference in her life is enormous.

“I was born in hell, now I live in heaven,” she said.

Park escaped from North Korea twice. The first time, in 1998, she was sold into marriage in China and had a son, but after six years of living in China, she was arrested and separated from her son to be sent back to North Korea.

While at a correctional facility, then a labour camp in Songpyong District, she faced torture and starvation. At the camp, prisoners would start work around 4:30 a.m. and work until sometimes 8 or 9 p.m.

Work included clearing land for farming with their bare hands, according to Amnesty International.

Park was allowed to leave the labour camp only when she got tetanus in her leg and was no longer able to walk.

From there, she managed to make it back into China and reunite with her son in 2005. As the pair attempted to cross into Mongolia, she met the man she would eventually marry, who was a fellow North Korean defector.

Eventually, Park and her family finally found happiness in the U.K. in 2008 as refugees.

“I love that I am a refugee,” she said. “A refugee is a freedom person.”

From that desperate journey 13 years ago, Park has now decided to run for public office in the upcoming May 6 election as a Conservative in Bury, a place she now calls her hometown.

If she wins a seat on the local council, it will make British history.

“What she wants to do is get out into a local community and help people and give them a chance to succeed,” James Daly, a Conservative MP in Bury, said. “Something that is clearly limited in North Korea.”

Honoured by Amnesty International for bravery, her goal now is to make other people happy. And she knows firsthand how governments can allow more people to be heard, or silence them completely.

“When I lived in North Korea, my government took away everything,” she said. “My hopes, my dreams.

“I want to smile again.”

Still, she does not think of herself as a politician, but a thankful refugee, looking to give back. 


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