Most analysts agree that North Korea is one of the world’s most brutally oppressive regimes, holding their people in enforced poverty on and denying them even the most basic human rights. North Korea’s leaders keep the nation largely isolated from the rest of the world, with little news of what life is like for the average North Korean citizen. However, on rare occasions someone manages to escape from North Korea and inform the world of what is really going on.

Escape From Oppression

Yeonmi Park is one such person. Ironically, she began her life as a member of North Korea’s privileged class until her father was arrested and imprisoned for illegally transporting metals to China. It was then that Park and her mother, realizing they had no future in North Korea, began what would be a daring escape. At only 13 years old, in 2007 Park and her mother were able to flee across the border into China by crossing a river at night.

More Troubles

Alas, the escape into China did not solve their problems. At one point they were threatened with rape, which required Park’s mother to submit to the rapist in order to spare her daughter. Yet, ultimately both mother and daughter were sold by human traffickers to a man who required Yeonmi Park to become his mistress, something she agreed to in order spare her parents, who by this time had been joined by her father. He died soon after of cancer and had to be secretly buried in China with no way to contact any of his relatives in North Korea. Yeonmi recalls her father’s death as the emotional low point of her ordeal.

Escape From China

Following the death of her father, Yeonmi knew that she and her mother must leave China. To do so required that they cross the Gobi Desert at night, where temperatures typically fall as low as 40 degrees below zero. With only a compass and the stars to guide them, the then 15 year old Park, her mother and five others miraculously crossed the desert to freedom. The group Liberty in North Korea estimates that more than 20,000 North Koreans a year manage to escape, mostly to China, where they are often exploited as cheap labor. Few are as successful as Yeonmi in making it all the way to the Western hemisphere.

A Beacon for Others

The epic escape of Yeonmi Park has served as an inspiration for all who hope to one day liberate the nation of North Korea from its despotic regime. However, Yeonmi Park sees her role as more than just a human rights activist on behalf of North Koreans. She hopes to be a positive influence for freedom and rights for everyone throughout the globe saying, “It’s not only North Korean rights. It’s all of our rights. It’s human rights.” Due to her courage and idealism, Yeomni Park is today one of the world’s most admired activists for freedom and justice.

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