The Debate

The Forgotten People

Hyeonseo Lee reminds us all that throughout the Korean crisis of the last several weeks, we must remember those who have no voice.

Harry Kazianis

As tensions seem to be thankfully dying down on the Korean peninsula, there is one party to the crisis that seems to always be forgotten, the actual people of North Korea.

Over the weekend, I came across a powerful article and video over at CNN. The piece comes courtesy of the TED speakers’ series.  The speaker, Hyeonseo Lee, shares her powerful story of escaping from North Korea then travelling thousands of miles, learning multiple languages, and then going back to the China-North Korea border to help her own family escape. It was certainly not lighthearted Sunday evening viewing in the Kazianis household, but an amazing story that shows the power of the human spirit.

Here is a brief excerpt from her piece at CNN that is adapted from her talk:

“When I was young, I thought my country was the best on the planet. I grew up singing a song called "Nothing to Envy." I felt very proud. I thought my life in North Korea was normal, even though when I was 7 years old, I saw my first public execution.

My family was not poor, and I had never experienced hunger. But after my mother read me a letter from a coworker's sister who said that her family was dying of hunger, I realized that something was very wrong in my country. A huge famine hit North Korea in the mid to late 1990s, and I began to see suffering, hunger and death around me.

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I can't reveal the details of how I left North Korea, but I can say that during the dark years of the famine when I was a young girl, I went alone to China to live with distant relatives. I thought I would be separated from my family for a short time. I could never have imagined that it would take 14 years for my family to live together again.

Since North Korean refugees are considered illegal migrants in China, I lived in constant fear that my identity would be revealed and I would be repatriated to a horrible fate back in North Korea.

One day, my worst nightmare came true when I was caught by the Chinese police and brought to the police station for interrogation. Someone had accused me of being North Korean, so they tested my Chinese language abilities and asked me tons of questions. I thought my life was over, but I managed to control all the emotions inside of me and answered their questions. They let me go. It was a miracle!”

Hyeonseo Lee reminds us all that throughout the crisis of the last several weeks, we must remember those who have no voice, and suffer in near silence.

Please take a look at the talk she gave, it is truly powerful. Please note: some of the details and images presented in the talk are graphic. Viewer discretion is advised: