North Koreans See Their Families for the First Time After Escaping Through 3000-Mile ‘Underground Railroad’

International NGO Liberty in North Korea has released an emotional video in which North Korean refugees were given the chance to see their families again for the first time since escaping the oppressive regime.

While these refugees are escaping out of their country and fleeing into China, many are eventually caught and forcibly sent back to North Korea by Chinese authorities to face unimaginable punishments upon returning.

As the Chinese government does not recognize them as refugees, many of these North Koreans do not have the resources to reach safety and freedom on their own.

LiNK has reportedly helped rescue over a thousand refugees and reunited over 400 families by providing a safe way out of China through a secret rescue route which stretches for roughly 3,000 miles.

To spread awareness this International Human Rights Day, LiNK invited some of these North Korean refugees to close their eyes and picture their loved ones. “Thousands of North Korean refugees are alone this holiday season. They can’t call, text, or visit their loved ones back home,” a message at the beginning of the video reads.

Several of those being interviewed in the video explained that they were forced to escape from North Korea without a single photograph of their families. Leaving them with nothing but their own memories to remember their loved ones by.


As these refugees reminisced and recalled detailed facial features of their family members, a sketch artist sat across from them, slowly building a portrait from the descriptions.

When presented with the finished portraits, many of them became overcome with emotion. “I’ve started to forget her face, little by little. Now that I see her, I remember her more vividly,” GeumHyok Kim said.

Danbi Kim, who escaped North Korea in 2011 said with tears in her eyes, “I’ll wait for the day we see each other again and live as a family again. So stay healthy and let’s live happily together,” as she stared at the portrait of her brother.

Described to be a form of the modern-day Underground Railroad, LiNK’s route requires moving rapidly on foot and via boats and busses across jungles and city roads while going undetected by local authorities.

At the end of their journey, the refugees would have traveled the distance of New York to Los Angeles.


LiNK’s work does not end there. The organization helps refugees transition into their new lives through community events, workshops and one-on-one support in South Korea or the United States. As LiNK explains, “North Korea is more than Kin Jong-un and Nuclear Weapons.”

“As more North Koreans share their stories with the world, it helps to humanize the North Korean people and mobilizes more international support.”

The refugees that LiNK has helped to rescue, have gone on to give TED talks, been featured on major news outlets, and have gone on to spread the organization’s message and speak of the unspeakable human rights violations they have witnessed and suffered from.


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“The North Korean government made my entire senior class work in the fields during the planting season. For 40 days straight we didn’t go to school. We just planted rice in the countryside from dawn to dusk. Even though I hated the work, some of my fondest memories are from that time. I hung out with my friends a lot because we all lived and worked together. We’d sing songs and sneak out to steal corn and potatoes when we were hungry. Then we’d roast them and share them with each other. I loved the feeling of disobeying the rules together. We’d also hang out with the girls. I had the biggest crush on this one classmate. She had the palest skin and long black hair. In school, it was her job to clean the portraits of the leaders. Every morning she’d take her shoes off and stand on the desk while she wiped the frame with a special cloth. She looked like this beautiful statue standing over the class. It was the highlight of my day watching her do that and I looked forward to seeing her every morning. She was my first love and while working in the fields I told her how much I liked her. After that, I started stealing corn just for her and we would laugh and talk together. 40 days seemed to go on forever. But the planting season ended and I stopped going to school soon after that because there were rumors my father had defected. I never got to say goodbye and I still think about her and wonder how she’s doing. If I saw her today I would walk up to her with a piece of roasted corn and just say “remember me?”.” (1/3)

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Despite the challenges that still stand in their way, the NGO believes that the North Korean people will achieve their liberty in our lifetime and wants to give hope to the refugees who still need their help.

Feature image via Liberty in North Korea

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