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MagazineApr 13, 2018
Most North Koreans who break out do so by crossing the river border. Reuters team photographed and interviewed some of those who made it to Seoul.
Kim Ryen Hui, 48, is reflected on a window as she poses for a photograph in Seoul, South Korea, November 14, 2017. Ryon Hui is from Pyongyang. She says she never wanted to defect. In 2011, she says, a broker helped her go to China for treatment on her liver. But the broker tricked her, she said, and she ended up in South Korea. She is campaigning to return, which Seoul says would be against the law. "I miss my parents even more than I miss my daughter. They're everything to me. For the first few years, I couldn't even breathe properly when I thought of them. My little brother lives with them in Pyongyang now. My mother can't see out of one eye. The thing I fear the most is finding out they've passed away before I have the chance to go back. My daughter and I have been writing letters and sending photos to each other. My cousin lives in China, so she's been sending them on. My daughter's name is Ri Ryon Gum. She was born on February 15, 1993. I don't want her to live out her life with me here. When she was young, she did taekwondo. She wanted to get involved in espionage operations against South Korea. She was so fearless. That's why she was doing taekwondo - to get involved in anti-South espionage. So I was really surprised to hear she became a chef. In a video of her I received, she explained why. She said that after I had left, she moved in with her father in Pyongyang and had been cooking for him. She said she decided to become a chef so she could fulfill my role at home. I was sad when I heard that." KIM HONG-JI/REUTERS