Asia’s Underground Railroad: An Operator’s Story

August 31, 2019

Stephen, your personal experience as an operator
on the underground railroad is very interesting. Could you please tell us about how you got
involved, how you sheltered escapees, and what were the circumstances of your arrest
in China? I was a businessman – a Christian businessman
– in China. I went to China in 1987, so I stayed there for 12 years. Then by that time,
I learned about North Korean refugee issues. One day, these North Korean refugees came
all the way down to Shenzhen, in Guangdong Province, which is around more than 1,000
miles away. They showed up in my church and I didn’t know who they were. When I approached
them and talked to them, they were very strange. Later I found out that they are North Korean
refugees. I wanted the church to help them, but Korean congregation, they are afraid to
help them because knew that if they were caught, the church would be closed down. I was the
only American citizen, so I felt that if they caught me, they could not do anything. I began
to help them. I brought them into my place and I kept them. They are not the only ones.
The next Sunday and the next Sunday, refugees kept coming. So I had to rent an apartment
and I kept them. I provided all the cookware, but these people they kept asking me to send
them to South Korea. As a businessman, I didn’t know how to send them. I told them that I
can’t. The only thing I can do is find a job for them. So to some of them, I gave them
jobs to let them work and make money and go back to their country. I was helping them,
but the majority couldn’t stay with me because they were looking for the way out. One day
my church pastor told me that North Korean refugees went to South Korea through Vietnam.
So I eventually realized that if I go to Vietnam, I could find a way out. I flew into Vietnam
and I ended up with help from one of the Korean church member in Ho Chi Minh City. With him,
he’s employees with the local Vietnamese. He and I, we teamed up. I will send the refugees
to the border. He will take them and bring them into Ho Chi Minh City and from Ho Chi
Minh City, one of the church members, he will bring them into Cambodia. At Phnom Penh, then
the Korean government will give them the temporary pass. With that, they can go through Bangkok,
and through Bangkok to South Korea. As soon as I started this, many people called this
an underground railroad. I cost me $600 per person, but at the time I was a businessman,
so that money was not a problem. I began to help them. I did this for about four years.
In the year 2003, I was waiting for one group of four from Yangji, the Chinese police followed
them and they caught me. That cost me a five year sentence, and I spent four years in prison.

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