SEOUL – A North Korean woman who along with her family sought asylum at the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, China, last May still feels disappointment over the way officials at the mission handled the incident, which resulted in their seizure by Chinese police.
In a recent interview with Kyodo News, Li Son Hee, 27, said that when she rushed into the consulate on May 8, 2002, with her husband, Kim Guan Chol, 29, their 3-year-old daughter, his mother and his younger brother, she thought officials there would help them.
When two Japanese officials came out from the office, she said, “I thought they might help us” but they “did nothing but watch Chinese police drag us out.”
The seizure of the North Korean asylum seekers drew global attention. A video camera had captured images of two screaming women and a girl being wrestled to the ground by Chinese police officers at the gate of the Japanese compound and dragged out.
The husband and his brother slipped past the police and rushed to the visa section inside the compound, but were eventually apprehended there by Chinese police.
Li said her husband and his brother told her that consular officials made phone calls to discuss how to cope with the incident. She said she finds it hard to imagine that the Chinese police “ignored” the Japanese officials and detained the men on their own.
All five family members were held for around two weeks after the incident before being allowed to leave China. They arrived in South Korea last May 23.
The couple and their daughter now live in South Cholla Province, while his mother and his brother live in Seoul.
Li said they have found it difficult to adapt to life in South Korea, citing “discrimination.”
They live on a monthly income of about 1.05 million won (100,000 yen) — 800,000 won from the government plus 250,000 won she earns from cleaning apartment houses. Her husband studies at a vocational school.
The North Koreans are managing to make ends meet, and Li expressed optimism they will eventually be able to overcome their current difficulties.
On the subject of North Koreans who have fled their country and are in hiding in China, Li said she hopes the Chinese government will recognize them as refugees. It is easier for North Koreans to adapt to life in China than in South Korea because China still is a socialist country, she said.