A woman who fled years of starvation, torture and imminent death in North Korea is now running to be a councillor in the U.K.
Jihyun Park, 52, was chosen as the Conservative Party candidate for Holyrood ward in Bury, Greater Manchester, according to BBC News.
Park first escaped North Korea in 1998 after a famine killed her father and uncle. She fled to the Chinese border with her brother.
Unfortunately, things did not exactly turn for the better. Park became a victim of human trafficking and was forced to marry a farmer, whom she had a child with.
Park was arrested and deported to North Korea in 2004. This time, she ended up in a forced labor camp.
However, she was banished from the camp when she almost died of leg gangrene. After a stranger helped her, she took the chance to escape for a second time to find her son.
Park managed to retrieve her son from his father’s family. Together, they set out for Mongolia on foot, hoping to find freedom at the end of the desert.
It was in this arid journey when Park met her future husband, Kwang, who also defected from North Korea. Kwang came to help the mother-and-son while they were trying to cross a security fence.
For three days, the group roamed the desert without food and water. Fearing that her son’s life was in danger, Park made the difficult decision to return to China.
In 2007, a pastor directed the new family to the United Nations. Park was allowed to choose among South Korea, the U.S. or Europe, according to the Manchester Evening News.
Park decided to live in England. Her family was then granted political asylum.
Park has since become a voice of North Koreans, delivering speeches about human rights abuses and helping newer defectors settle in. She also works as a language tutor.
In 2016, Park joined the Conservative Party. She applied to be a prospective candidate at the next election and recently learned that she was chosen to stand in Holyrood ward.
“When I arrived in the U.K. in 2008, I couldn’t speak any English, but people were so kind and welcoming. I cried and cried tears of happiness because, in North Korea, I didn’t feel welcome, but in the UK, people made me feel at home,” Park said in a statement.
Park credits her new life to Conservatives, who “gave us equal opportunities.” She wants to return the favor and help others be heard.
“I think of Bury as my home town now,” Park told the Bury Times. “It’s been a difficult year all over the world with people separated form families. I want to stand up and maybe help voiceless people get their concerns heard.”
Park is the first North Korean to run for public office in the U.K. Local elections are scheduled in May.
Feature Images via Jihyun Park