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Hundreds of those who managed to flee the brutal dictatorship now live on the other side of the world in the south-west London suburb of New Malden. Somewhat surprisingly, it has provided a haven for people who have escaped the communist country, becoming home to one of the world’s largest North Korean refugee communities.
Thirty-year-old Jimin Kang is one those who managed to escape the country’s oppressive regime.
He endured a harrowing upbringing; while he was a young boy the government stripped his father of the family land, while his grandfather and two of his uncles were sent to labour camps and millions died when famine struck the country in the 1990s.
Fearing for his life, he fled North Korea with his sister and has lived in London for the last eight years.
He defended President Trump’s approach, arguing that war is the only way to end seven decades of suffering for the North Korean people.
Mr Kang, who now works as a travel agent, told the Standard: “Circumstances in North Korea are bad and they’re not getting any better.
“I am worried about everything, my father lives in North Korea, my friends live in North Korea, I don’t want fighting but unless you do something things are just going to get worse.
“There could be a peaceful solution but people are dying in North Korea, they have no food, they are hungry.
“North Korea wants to get nuclear weapons. I don’t think South Korea and America have a choice, they have to fight.”
Back in his home country Kim Jong-un and President Trump have become increasingly hostile, with North Korea responding to threats by ramping up its nuclear programme.
All eyes were on Pyongyang over the weekend when it claimed it had carried out a Hydrogen bomb test and caused a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in the biggest provocation to the west since President Trump took office in January.
In response, the President warned “we’ll see” after being asked if the US will launch an attack.
Jihyun Park, 49, arrived in the UK in 2008, and also welcomed the new approach to North Korea since Trump was elected.
Now a charity worker, she regularly travels to New Malden to help those who have fled there.
An extraordinary life has seen her escape from North Korea twice.
She first fled in 1998 and was captured by human traffickers and sold into a forced marriage to a Chinese farmer, with whom she had a son. In 2004, Ms Park was sent back to North Korea after being reported to the authorities by local villages, and endured horrific conditions in a labour camp.
She said: “I developed gangrene and the guards threw me out of the prison as they believed I was close to death.
“A kind stranger nursed me and helped me to escape for the final time and reunited with my son.”
She now lives in Bury, Manchester, and said in terms of his sanctions and rhetoric he has done far more for the country than Barack Obama did during his Presidency.
“I like his actions. He’s has done more since he became President than Obama did in eight years,” she said.
However she added that she believes the true “Achilles heel” of the North Korean government is getting information to the oppressed people who live there.
She said: “To solve this problem you need to work with the North Korean people. If people understand North Korean system they all stand up and fight government.
“North Korea’s rulers, all members of the Kim family, have been targeting the will of their people over seven decades.
“This form of state-sanctioned brainwashing, a dictatorship of the mind, has had a hugely detrimental impact on the self-will and self-confidence of those who have desired to resist.
“If we send true information to North Korea we can open their eyes, ears.
“The most important strategy among all ideas for engagement is to spread knowledge and information from outside to North Korean citizens.”
Anwita Basu, a North Korea Analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said the views of the refugees were not surprising.
“I think from their perspective they think that finally their problems are going to face daylight and the US and western world will take action against these atrocities,” she said.
“Here is a US President who is bombastic and loud and rhetorical talking against an equally bombastic dictator.
“But what binds Donald Trump is democracy, which North Korea doesn’t have, so Kim Jong-un can do what he wants.
“And Donald Trump doesn’t really care from a humanitarian perspective. It is a distraction he is using from problems at home.
“I really don’t think his motive is to help the people of both Koreas. His rhetoric has galvanised the nuclear programme.”
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