Pak Jong Suk’s Unlikey Odyssey: One Defector’s Journey from North Korea to South Korea and Back Again

North Korea

Rarely does a defector from the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea return to the North, but the case of Pak Jong Suk is a curious one: Having defected from the North in 2006, Pak has returned from South Korea to the DPRK a propaganda star for the regime.

The 66-year old returnee is described by official state media as having become sickened by the money-driven and corrupt culture she experienced during her time living in Seoul. Furthermore, she heaps praise upon the young leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong-un, for welcoming her back to her homeland.

She describes toil as a subway janitor and the demeaning experience of caring for an invalid, a particularly inconceivable notion to citizens in the North due to the circumstances of their worldview.

It was not until the death of Kim Jong-il that Pak Jong Suk was prompted to return to her family in the North.

South Korea claims that Pak Jong Suk is being manipulated by the North because she was told her son faced dire consequences if she did not return. Though it is difficult to verify any of Pak Jong Suk’s background from the North, her acquaintances and friends in the South confirm that fears for her son’s safety prompted her return.

After defecting in 2006, Pak Jong Suk’s son Kim Jin Myong reported her dead; however, the fixer responsible for transporting Pak to the South was apprehended by authorities in the North and confessed her name among others as being among those he had helped leave the North.

Immediately after this Pak’s son Kim lost his job at a music school. Upon her return to the North she was reunited with her son and they were all given a fully furnished apartment to live in which to live in Pyongyang. Her story will likely provide fodder for the regime for quite some time as it seeks to curb the numbers of people leaving the nation.

Friends in South Korea are quoted as saying that it is most certain Pak left the South for her son’s sake because she was extremely glad to have left the North, calling it a ‘police state’ and ‘hell.’


[Washington Post]