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North Korean Defectors' Heartbreaking Journey From Kim Jong Un's Brutal Regime Captured On Film

13/05/2014 17:41 BST | Updated 14/05/2014 11:59 BST

To protect the identity of the family mentioned in this piece, all images and footage have been removed at the request of Channel 4 News. Additionally, we have changed the names of the individuals involved.

The harrowing yet heartening escape of a mother and son from North Korea has been captured on film.

Mrs P and her 29-year-old son Mr W fled the country on foot in a journey fraught with pain and anguish.

The pair were smuggled through the heavily guarded border dividing North Korea and China – but their arranged guide did not meet them on the other side as planned.

Stranded, the mother and son were forced to hide with no food in the snowy mountains for three days, with both developing severe frostbite before they were able to flag down a passing bus.

Speaking exclusively to a Channel 4 News team, the pair explained how they left their homeland so determined not to return, they equipped themselves with rat poison and opium to kill themselves with if they were captured.

China sends defectors back to North Korea – almost certainly to their execution.

Holding a small pill of poison, Mrs P revealed: “We keep it in the mouth like this. Yes, we hold it between our teeth.

“If we are captured and cannot move our hands we can still chew and swallow.”

Mrs P’s two daughters escaped North Korea years ago and now live in South Korea – which is where she hopes to reach.

But her frostbite is so advanced their onward journey to the safety of half-way point Laos is thrown into doubt.

A missionary named The Priest - whose job it is to help spirit North Korean defectors out of China - meets the pair and devises a plan of action.

A van and a medic are organised to transport the pair the necessary 3,000 miles and the film crew records the pair’s innocent wonder at the sight of street lights and paved roads during the journey.

As reporter John Sparks remarks: “They’d been told that North Korea was the envy of the world. But one day on a Chinese highway changed everything.”

Mrs P muses: “This is a country for the people. North Korea is not a country for the people.

“In North Korea they talk about ‘the people’ but in reality, they take advantage of the people.

“Still, how could I have known the difference.

“Ah! Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong-un.”

The family recount a life where they always went hungry.

A stop at a service station sees Mr W's face light up at the sight of children’s toys – something he has never seen before.

The pair’s trek continues – with the final leg seeing Mrs P forced to hobble over the mountains on her damaged feet – before arriving in the Laos capital of Vientiane.

Upon arrival she finds all of her toes must be amputated, but her philosophical response is: “It is OK, I’m happy with this. When I was in the mountains I didn’t think I would survive.”

Earlier this year a UN-mandated inquiry team said North Korea’s brutal regime is committing crimes against humanity including the extermination, starvation and enslavement of its population.

Concerns about human rights abuses in the impoverished country have persisted for years, but have been largely overshadowed in international forums by fears over North Korea's attempts to become a nuclear weapons power.

But in February Pyongyang’s crimes were branded a “shock to conscience of humanity” by a report published by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea.

At present, more than 200,000 men, women and children are thought to be locked up in state run concentration camps where systematic torture, starvation and murder are daily occurrences and few are able to survive.

It also cited evidence of torture, rape and murder inside the country's labour camps where political prisoners are held.

pigeon torture

A series of sketches depicting torture, starvation and death in a North Korean prison were published in a UN report into human rights abuses earlier this year

In 2012 the United nations said two-thirds of the country’s 24 million people were facing chronic food shortages.

It added nearly a third of children under the age of 5 showed signs of stunted growth, particularly in rural areas.

Last year there were fears some famine-stricken North Koreans were being forced into cannibalism following claims a man was executed for murdering his two children for food.

The same investigation also contained details of a man who dug up his grandchild's corpse for food, and another who boiled his child and ate the flesh.

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Despite this, the country's elite continues to live in extreme comfort.

North Korea’s imports of luxury goods – including pets, watches and alcohol have soared under Kim’s regime – exceeding even the extravagance of his father.

Data gathered by South Korea shows imports under Kim Jong Il’s rule reached $584.82 million in 2011.

rodman kenneth bae

Dennis Rodman has spoken of the North Korean leader's 'seven-star' lifestyle

In 2012, after Kim took over, imports of luxury goods totaled $645.86 million, Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun revealed.

“Foreign currency that should be used to improve the lives of the people has instead been used for the luxurious lifestyle of the Kim family as well as to maintain its base of authority,” said ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun, who released the statistics.

The paper adds imports of alcohol and watches in particular have soared and suggests the items are likely to have used as gifts for high-ranking party officials.

NBA star Dennis Rodman and Kim's unlikely "friend for life" has previously spoken of the leader's "seven-star" lifestyle.

North Korea Hunger