After risking his life to escape the pariah nation of North Korea for the South, Son Jong-hoon is planning on returning. Speaking exclusively to North Korean news site NK News, Son cited the poor treatment of refugees in South Korea as one of the reasons for his plans to defect back -- something nobody has ever done.
Son knows that returning to North Korea will not be easy, considering a harsh punishment likely awaits him across the border. Still, the former North Korean official told NK News that he is going through all the appropriate legal channels in hopes of going back to the nation he once abandoned and criticized. After spending 11 years in South Korea working as an advocate for the rights of refugees, Son says that South Koreans have shown little interest in the reunification of the two nations or even respect those who have risked their lives defecting.
Son said he has been appealing to the Ministry of Unification (MOU), the department of the South Korean government in charge of inter-Korean relations, but has run into issues because there is no precedence of anyone trying to re-defect. As Son bounces around different departments of the MOU, he is forced to think about other alternatives if an arrangement back to North Korea can’t be made. “My final choice will be to renounce my citizenship. But right now this is impossible to do in South Korea and only possible in a third country,” Son said, saying he would only resort to this if legal routes don’t work out, adding that he would not use illegal channels of getting back into the North.
Son is the child of a Chinese-born North Korean who was educated in China and worked as an official with China’s military. During the Korean War, Mr. Son’s father fought for the North, earning him elite status in the Communist dictatorship. His father’s affiliation with the government allowed for a comfortable life for Son, who said that “the government treated me well.” But after arriving in South Korea, Son was not treated the way he was used to. “South Korea treated me like dirt. … It didn’t matter how smart I was. I majored in business in university but never worked in any such field in [South] Korea.”
In North Korea, punishment for defecting is harsh. “The fact that a North Korean government affiliate, whom the government had been so generous to, had suddenly betrayed the government by defecting is something totally unthinkable. The punishment for those who know the law so well is harsher than for normal North Korean citizens, therefore my brother was shot and his wife, too, died in China."
Now, even after his family has paid dearly for his defection, he plans on returning to see his mother, who is still alive, and send a strong message to South Korea, which he feels turned its back on him. “That [North Korean] government, which killed my brother and deported my family, I would never go to in order to praise. But I want to see my family one last time and at the same time send a strong message to the South Korean government,” he said. “The government [of the South] is not interested in the people’s well-being.”
“My defection can create a synergy effect by criticizing the North Korean government for its human rights situation and at the same time criticizing the corrupt South Korean government,” Son said. He is aware that he will be facing harsh consequences, even saying that the point he is trying to make about both governments is worth his life. “This will be a great help for the improvement of the Korean peninsula’s future, if the two nations come together and a democracy is established in North Korea. … That is my dream.”
The interview can be read in its entirety here.