SEOUL — Kim Ryon-hui is among the 30,000 North Korean defectors now living in South Korea. But she says her story is different from most — in fact, she doesn’t even like to be called a “defector.”
Kim left her home in North Korea eight years ago, and she’s desperately tried to make her way back ever since. But laws in South Korea, where she now lives, prohibit her from doing so. She's hoping President Donald Trump can help.
In 2011, Kim left Pyongyang to seek treatment for a liver condition. Thinking that treatment in a Communist country would be free, she first went to China. But it wasn’t free. Unable to afford to pay for high medical bills, Kim turned to a smuggler, who offered to sneak her into South Korea. She was told she could work there for a while and save up enough money for her treatment.
It was only later that she realized she couldn't return home whenever she wanted.
Kim now spends much of her time giving lectures to South Koreans curious about daily life in her homeland. She also attends public protests in an effort to change the laws that prevent her from returning to North Korea.
She’s persistently optimistic and believes that Trump will thaw relations on the Korean Peninsula enough to change restrictive laws like the one that keeps her from returning to Pyongyang.
She says she's already impressed with him.
“I think preventing war is Trump’s achievement,” Kim mused as she watched his State of the Union address on television.
This segment originally aired February 26, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.