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Defectors cite poverty and oppression, but also a growing awareness of the outside world as reasons they left home.
the border. He was arrested and tortured, and asked repeatedly where his sons were. He died three days after his release. A neighbor found his body and held a funeral for him."
Every defector who arrives in South Korea brings with them a unique story of why and how they left the North. They are united, though, by a belief that life in the prosperous South will make up for the pain of separation from loved ones and the risks they took to get here.
Given those high expectations, it is inevitable, says Seong Ho, that some find themselves marginalized and disillusioned in their new home.
"We are a minority in South Korea, and that inevitably means there are challenges. North Korean students face discrimination, mostly because of their accent, so many defectors never get used to their new environment. It's all about having the determination to succeed," he says.
For his brother Cheol Ho, the simple pleasure of independent study is in stark contrast to the regimented life he led before. "Unless your family is part of the North Korean elite, you have to do an assigned job in a specific place your entire life, whether you like it or not," he says.
"But here in South Korea, you can do anything you like. You can study as much as you want, and you can dream beyond what you are capable of. You can even dream of becoming president. But that's not allowed in North Korea."
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The transition from the communist North to the capitalist South is hardest for the increasing number of young female defectors, many of whom are enticed by secret glimpses of life in the West on contraband videotapes.
"Most North Korean defectors I meet are women, and they have numerous problems," says Kim Yong Lan, a South Korean activist who helps defectors adjust to their new environment.
"They are very weak as a result of physical torture. They also suffer damage to their mental health, such as fear and anxiety. They have to go through hell to get to South Korea, but when they arrive there is no one here for them. They know there is a risk that the relatives they left behind will be tortured and forced to live without enough food. That makes them feel guilty about being here."
Kim Su Ryeon, a 23-year-old student, defected in 2006 with her mother, and arrived in the South two years later. "I once thought I had overcome my biggest challenge because I had defected and even experienced what it feels like to be on the verge of death," she says.
"So when I first came to South Korea I was young and thought I wouldn't be afraid of anything. ... But I was wrong. I am now safe here, and my safety is important, but I now I face other psychological problems."
Do Myeong Hak, secretary general of North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, a Seoul-based group of defectors, says the number of refugees will continue to rise, but not just as a result of famine.
"It's not just an issue of the food supply," says Do, a poet who arrived in South Korea five years ago. "Even people who can make a living in North Korea are deciding to defect because they are more aware of the outside world. More information is reaching North Koreans. Even if the food supply is maintained, the number of defectors will continue to rise."
The Ji brothers, now university students in Seoul, try to help other defectors through their organization Now, Action, Unity, Human Rights. While he builds bridges between young North and South Koreans through campaigns, meetings and social events, Seong Ho is making plans, a simple luxury he never thought possible six years ago.
"I'm a student and I don't have regular income, but once I get a job I should be able to make money," he says. "I live in a much smaller room compared to the one in North Korea, but I'm definitely happier here.
"The difference between South and North Korea is like the difference between heaven and hell."
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