Yeonmi Park was born in North Korea on the 4th of October 1993. She had an elder sister called Eunmi. Park’s father was employed as a civil servant at the town hall and her mother worked as a nurse for North Korea’s army. Her father moved to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, where he had discovered the lucrative business of metal smuggling. He was later imprisoned and subjected to years of hard labor for his role in the metal smuggling trade.
Escape to China
When Park’s father was released, he developed a plan to smuggle his family out of North Korea. By this time, Eunmi had already moved to China. On March 30, 2007, Park fled with her mother into China assisted by human traffickers who led them through the Chinese border. Her father was left behind due to his illness. After moving into China, Park and
her mother settled in the Chinese province of Jilin. During their stay in China, they were not able to find Eunmi and therefore assumed that she had died.
While in China, an unfortunate incidence occurred, one of the people who helped them escape threatened to expose them if Park failed to sleep with him. Park’s mother intervened and offered herself instead. Later on in October, Park arranged to have her father smuggled into China. It was here that it was discovered that he was suffering from colon cancer. A few months later, he died at the age of 45 years. The family could
not mourn him or give him a decent burial because of fears that they would draw the attention of the authorities. Therefore, they buried his remains at a nearby mountain.
After the death of her father, Park moved her mother to a nearby Christian shelter headed by South Korean and Chinese missionaries. It is here that they got help to flee to South Korea by passing through Mongolia. When they arrived at the Mongolian border, Park and her mother were stopped by guards who threatened to deport them to China. Without any other option, Park and her mother planned to commit suicide but the guards
sympathized with them and led them to a detention site at Mongolia’s capital, Ulan Bator. On 1st April 2009, Park and her mother were accompanied to the Chinggis Khaan airport and sent to Seoul.
Ever since her escape, Park has spoken publicly on yeonmi.net and written about her time in North Korea. She has published her stories in the Washington Post and has also done interviews with the Guardian. Park has worked as a volunteer in programs like the Freedom Factory Corporation in South Korea. She also joined the LINK (Liberty In North Korea) an NGO that is in the business of rescuing refugees of North Korea from China and sending them to the United States and South Korea.
Park also appeared as a co-host for a talk show, Casey Lartigue, which discusses issues affecting North Korea and refugees who escape from the country. Park offered herself to take part in this program in order to increase the awareness of the plight affecting North Korean refugees.