Yeonmi Park: Is It Really That Hard For Cameron To Ask China To Help North Korean Refugees?

A North Korean defector who fled her country and was sold as a sex slave in China has criticised David Cameron for not tackling the issue with the Chinese president.

Speaking to The Huffington Post UK, 22-year-old Yeonmi Park called for action against China, which she says turns back "helpless" refugees who manage to escape North Korea's dictatorship.

China, which borders North Korea and is the main passage used by defectors, has been widely criticised for its treatment of those fleeing Kim Jong-un's regime, and Park is the latest to bring the issue to light.

"I think the first thing we can do is directly embarrass China," Park, who left North Korea when she was 13, says. "Like, what is that? What is this big country doing? These people, these helpless and worthy people are being sent back.

'My mother was sold for $65. She was less valuable than an iPhone'

"I’m so embarrassed by the rest of the countries too - like Britain. When I was in London last time Xi Jinping came, and I was like, is it really hard for David [Cameron] to tell him ‘don’t send the refugees back to their country’?

"Is it so hard for Obama to say something to him? I’m not even saying stop trading with China, do it! Make money, whatever, economy, I get it.

"But why so hard for them to just mention, make a comment, [about] these lives. If they really believe in justice they have to tell them, you know? 'We are still going to trade with you but can you just let these refugees go to freedom?'

"We are not even asking China to accept us, just to let us through."

Park, who says she was forced to watch her mother be raped when she arrived in China, compares the North Korean president to Hitler, saying he is killing "mass people".

"Just to keep the country and have his power. I do think sometimes, I wonder is it true that every life is equal in this world? Do we care about North Korean lives? They [the rest of the world] would if other people died like the North Koreans are.

"What's happening in that country is unimaginable. The people are not having human rights."

During an address at the One Young World summit on Friday, Park criticised Western media for its lighthearted portrayal of Kim Jong-un, saying the press should focus on the atrocities the president is committing instead.

"The first time I saw the media joking about him, I couldn’t actually process it," she reflects. "I thought, how come people can laugh about this tragedy? For us it’s real lives being killed and tortured, mercilessly.

"I have been in that situation. To me [Kim Jong-un] is not just a name, just a face. What he is doing is injustice.

"But now I see people never see this horrifying things, so I don’t blame them [for making] fun of him, that’s what we do.

"We made fun of Hitler too, but that’s not all we did. We were told ‘never again’, we promised to try to never let that tragedy happen again.

"And that’s what I’m saying. Making fun of [Kim Jong-un] is not enough. Making fun of him actually can reduce is dictatorship power, but that is not enough and that is what I’m talking about."

This year, the One Young World summit is based in Bangkok, Thailand, and Park is keen to express her gratification at the country's attitude towards North Korean refugees.

"It's a very historical place for us," she explains. "Because when we come here, Thailand is one of the only governments who is friendly to North Korean defectors and they assist us to find freedom and go to South Korea or America.

"There are countries who are right to accept us and Thailand is the best example of that, so why not China?"

"But I’m not even asking China to accept us as refugees," she continues, getting increasingly agitated and raising her voice. It's the first time I've seen her angry.

"Let us go freely! Let us go to Thailand or somewhere just to be free.

"And that’s what I’m talking about in the news. Why are we portraying Korea as something like an impossible situation? There are solutions! There’s things can be done, it’s not like there is nothing that we can do."

Here Park stops and recomposes herself, and reverts back to her normal softly spoken tone.

"Sorry, I’m just getting emotional about it," she apologises, managing a laugh. "Stupid! I know."

Yeonmi Park addressing the One Young World conference in Bangkok

After her first public speech at One Young World last year, which has since been watched more than 2m times, Park shot to fame and has now released a book about her escape from the hermetic state.

"I didn't think I'd get the support of so many people," she recalls. "I didn't know people can be good. I didn't know people are designed to be good and help one another.

"To me they were always trying to take advantage of me and abuse me." Park says, referring to the moment she arrived in China and was sold into the sex slave industry along with her mother - who was bought for a mere $65.

"But last year at One Young World [people] showed me that no, humanity is different, humanity is good, and we try and help one another.

"How lucky I am to know that."

Park says it was it was "scary" deciding to tell her story, particularly after her close friend Shin Dong-hyuk's experience.

Dong-hyuk is the only known person to have escaped after being been born in a North Korean gulag. His book 'Escape from Camp 14', which has since been made into a film, was met with concerns over whether he was telling the truth.

"Despite that I hope more refugees speak up," Park continues. "Because after that it was very hard for defectors especially. But don't lose hope."

Not to mention, of course, drawing attention from the watchful eye of North Korea.

"Yes, it was very scary. Risking your life is not an easy thing to do. I have a dream to have a normal life, someday have a child, get older. But it is hard, it’s a big commitment.

"And also to be in public, it’s not easy. It's painful," she adds, "all the attention."

In recent times, Park's home country has committed to a major drive to attract foreign tourists. The secretive regime hopes to welcome 2m tourists, compared to the meagre 100,000 visitors a year it currently pulls in.

But Park says although things aren't black and white, and visiting North Korea is "not good or bad", she has her reservations about the country's tourism boom.

"People go there and they are fooled by the propaganda," she explains. "You know: 'I had enough food, I stayed in hotel, I had electricity, a TV. People are not starving.'

"And it’s kind of more of a problem I think when people are so oppressed and people are dying in concentration camps. We are not animals. But these people come [here] like [it is] a zoo.

"It’s not their intentions when people go to the country they have to bow down to the statue of Kim Il-sung and that means 'we respect your dictator and we justify the dictatorship'.

"I’m happy for them to go to the country but can’t they just request that ‘I’m not going to bow down in front of Kim Jong-un and Kim Il-sung and let me go to see some other parts'?

"We have to be more forceful. If you are going to spend your money on freedom you’ve got to ask what it means, not just listen to what a dictator tells you. It’s funny to me, you know.. Unbelievable."

Since sharing her story in November last year, Park has campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of the plight of her people. But, she says, her work has barely begun.

"My concern is we have not even started [the] conversation yet.

"It is ridiculous that lives are being sold for $65 in the 21st century. It’s unacceptable. If we have rights, if we say to [North Koreans] 'you are human beings, better than other animals', then we have to protect their rights."

She lets out a long sigh, admitting: "It’s hard to say what’s going to work.

"But I think we do have to carry on our conversation with China. We have to protect these people’s lives.

"Another thing is we need to get information through the borders so [North Koreans] can see what is happening outside in the rest of the world. It will free people’s minds.

"We also have to keep talking to all the world leaders about how to get Kim Jung-un to stop killing his people and respect their human rights.

"But," she laments, "it's not even on the world's agenda.

"ISIS is a big threat now, it is a big threat to everyone on earth, but North Korea is a big threat to everybody too.

"This dictator is a big threat to everybody. He is starving 25m people and he has a nuclear bomb. How do we know he is not going to bomb us?

"People forget about North Korea. They treat it as if it’s in a different universe, like it doesn’t exist. 'It’s our world, let’s talk about our problem here', they say. But we forget the normal people living there, trapped. I hope we can remember them.

"And because I am alive now so I can talk about my story. But if I’d died in the Gobi desert, nobody would have even known that I’d existed in the world."

Yeonmi Park is an ambassador for One Young World, a global forum for young leaders aged 18-30 which gathers youths from every nation in the world to develop solutions to some of today and tomorrow's most pressing issues.