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MagazineApr 13, 2018
Most North Koreans who break out do so by crossing the river border. Reuters team photographed and interviewed some of those who made it to Seoul.
Photographs and North Korean identification card of Lee Oui-ryuk are seen in Seoul, South Korea, September 12, 2017. Oui-ryuk is from Onsong, near the border with China. He defected in 2010, and brought his ID card with him. "I brought my ID with me when I left North Korea. Juche 95.11.7 (the date in the North Korean calendar, which equates to Nov. 7, 2006) is the date I was issued with my ID. It says here my blood type is "A", but I'm actually an "O." For the 23 years I lived in North Korea, I thought my blood type was "A." They wrote down my blood type without even doing a test. They just wrote whatever they wanted to. I was caught trying to defect to South Korea around Kim Jong Il's birthday. They strengthen border security just before and after that date. "The bottom of the lamp is dark," as the saying goes, and I thought I'd be able to cross right under their noses. The soldiers shot at me as I tried to run away from the Tumen River. I managed to get away and hid, but someone reported me and I was caught. That's when I was taken to the bowibu (North Korean secret police) for three months of interrogation. The state ruled that I had tried to defect to South Korea, and I was sent to a camp for political prisoners. I escaped when they were transferring me to the camp. I hid and managed to make it to my big sister's house - that's when I grabbed these photos. I couldn't go home easily, so decided I had to hide in the mountains or somewhere remote. I needed my ID to move around without getting caught. and I took these 12 photos with me in case I wanted to look back and reminisce. I wrote on the back of them so as not to forget." KIM HONG-JI/REUTERS