Survivors of Korean internment camp being described as real-life ‘Squid Game’ press for justice

Survivors of an internment camp in Busan that has been likened to Netflix’s “Squid Game” are still fighting for justice 30 years later as they continue to call out the family of the man behind the brutal games. 

Seeking justice: Details of the abuse by the officials of Brothers Home were investigated by journalists Mary Ann Jolley and Susan Kim and aired on Al Jazeera’s weekly television program 101 East on Dec. 9.

  • Park In-keun, a convicted criminal and former soldier, ruled Brothers Home with an iron fist in the 1980s. The house of horror was an internment camp in Busan funded by the government under the guise of a wellness facility. 
  • Although Park passed away in 2016, his daughter, brother-in-law and other family members have been found to be living affluent lives in Australia. 
  • Park Soon-hee, 51, is one of the many survivors calling for the family members of the former head of Brothers Home to be extradited from Australia to face questioning from authorities, Al Jazeera reported. She was only 10 years old when officials illegally confined her inside the welfare facility, where she was allegedly enslaved, brutally beaten and sexually abused.
  • To ensure the wealthy life of that family, tens of thousands of people are now in pain and suffering,” she told Jolley. “We were children with a bright future, but they threw it away. They trampled on our future.”
  • Choi Seung-woo, another survivor, also suffered the same fate as Park Soon-hee. Choi was reportedly taken to the facility at 14 and was also allegedly enslaved, sexually assaulted and beaten for five years.
  • The mental and physical damage that was inflicted on me was something I never imagined,” he said. “Everything I dreamt of was destroyed.” Choi’s younger brother, who was also illegally detained at the facility, had taken his own life, just like many other survivors.
  • The South Korean government passed a law in May 2020 that allowed investigations into the country’s past human rights violations, including Brothers Home, through the relaunch of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Associated Press reported.
  • Previously, the commission had investigated several incidents of human rights violations between 2006 and 2010, including the massacres of the Korean War in the early 1950s.
  • South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a meeting in 2018 where he apologized in front of dozens of former internees of Brothers Home for the brutal violence they suffered in the facility.

The brutal history: During the 1970s and 1980s, Brothers Home, which was one of the dozens of welfare facilities established under the authoritarian rule of former Korean President Chun Doo-hwan, was rife with abuse, including punishments that were called “games.” 

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  • Brothers Home and similar facilities were part of the government ordinance known as No.410 that aimed to “purify the streets.”  Starting in 1975, the government intensified its effort to force the homeless into “wellness centers” ahead of the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Chun’s administration’s aim at the time was to present South Korea as a modern and emerging economic power in Asia.
  • Brothers Home was reportedly run privately by Park In-keun at the helm with his brother-in-law, Lim Young-soon, as the internment camp’s director, The Australian reported.
  • The facility was one of the biggest of its kind in the country, and it reportedly had around 3,500 captives at its pinnacle. The government also called it the “exemplary social welfare center for the homeless” in its 1981 promotional film.

  • While the facility was supposedly created to shelter the homeless, an investigation led by Busan prosecutor Kim Yong-won in 1987 discovered that only 10% of the inmates were “vagrants,” while the others were taken off the streets while going about their daily lives.
  • It was discovered that the government gave Park In-keun and Brothers Home more  subsidies as they brought in more people.
  • Inmates of Brothers Home were made to sleep in tents while they built the high concrete walls of the facility during its early days. They were also forced to manufacture items such as fishing equipment, cocktail umbrellas, clothing and shoes without receiving compensation.
  • If we didn’t finish it, we were beaten with baseball bats,” Yeon Seng-mo, a survivor who was incarcerated in the facility at the age of 15 for four years, told 101 East. “They pocketed money from the sale of these products, as well as benefited from the free labor.”
  • Park In-keun also established a chain of command similar to the army, promoting inmates to higher positions and making them abuse low-ranking inmates, Busan City councilor Park Min-seong explained.
  • The internment camp had “platoons” that housed up to 120 inmates. Choi recalled that they were treated like “toys” by the “platoon leaders.”  Questioning their leaders could subject them to vicious punishments — once, one of the leaders rolled up an inmate in a blanket and began kicking him after he stood up to them.
  • Platoon leaders would also force the inmates to play games such as “The Motor Vehicle Game,” where leaders would scream “left indicator” and “hit them in the eye until it was bruised and red,” The Daily Mail reported.
  • Another game was the “Hiroshima game,” where inmates were “forced to hang upside down from the rails of their bunk beds for extended periods” and were severely beaten if they fell.
  • Although the official report stated that 551 inmates died inside the facility, others believe the actual number could be much higher since the inmates who tried to escape Brothers Home would be beaten in front of other inmates in what was referred to as the “people’s trials.”
  • Those who ran Brothers Home had allegedly used religion to justify the violence inside the welfare facility. Lim Young-soon, who is now a Presbyterian pastor in Sydney, would reportedly hold service in the church built by the inmates every Wednesday and Sunday.

The aftermath and emigration to Australia: Park In-keun was eventually arrested in 1987 and was charged with embezzlement and illegal confinement. 

  • However, he was acquitted of the illegal confinement charge and was only imprisoned for two-and-a-half years instead of facing the 15-year sentence for embezzlement.
  • He managed to secure an Australian visa despite having a criminal history and immediately moved to Australia following his release in 1989.
  • Lim Young-soon also moved to Australia to set up a new life for his family. He was welcomed by a Korean Presbyterian church in Sydney who sponsored his permanent resident visa. The church congregation was reportedly unaware of Lim Young-soon’s dark past in South Korea.
  • Park In-keun and his brother-in-law set up their church in 1990, and in 1995, they registered the family company Job’s Town, appointing close family members as its directors.
  • The company then bought a golf driving range in Milperra for 1.4 million Australian dollars (approximately $997,000) using the money embezzled from Brothers Home. The golf driving range is now owned and being  managed by Park In-keun’s youngest daughter, Jee-hee, and her husband, Alex Min.
  • Lim Bong-keun, a former Brothers Home internee, was reportedly forced to move to Sydney to work for the driving range. He claims to have been subjected to grueling working hours, where he worked “before dawn till after midnight, six days a week” and was only paid 160 Australian dollars ($113) for his eight years of service.
  • In 2014, Park In-keun and his son, Park Chun-kwang, were charged for misappropriating money from one of their social welfare centers back in South Korea. The latter served three years in prison, while his father’s charges were suspended due to him having dementia. The elderly Park reportedly died two years later.
  • Survivors are now demanding the family’s assets, such as the Milperra driving range, to be seized and sold so that the victims of Brothers Home can be compensated. 
  • “The government needs to look at ways of seizing these assets and returning them to the country,” Busan City counselor Park Min-seong said. “Of course, this money then needs to be spent on victims.”
  • Lim Young-soon reportedly denied all the accusations against him and his family when contacted by Al Jazeera. He also denied the claim that he was the director of Brothers Home, despite official documents stating his name and position.

Featured Image via Al Jazeera English

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