Teenage dreams run to asylum
Wearing tight black trousers and a sequined red jersey, Song-hee looks like a typical teenager. Her dreams are of freedom but her story is one of desperation. She fled North Korea less than a month ago. With a classmate, the 16-year-old girl trudged for three hours to a desolate forest region and slid over the frozen Yalu river into China. She did not tell her parents. “They would have tried to stop me,” she said. Back home, her mother sold socks at a market until it was closed – part of a clampdown on free enterprise. Her family was already under surveillance after her brother – who trafficked people out of the country – fled to South Korea a year ago. By North Korea’s lowly standards, they were relatively well-off. Since her brother left, however, she has lived in fear that the whole family would be taken to a labour camp. She dropped out of school and three weeks ago, the pressure became too great.