It’s a acquainted chorus in British politics that extra elected representatives ought to come from totally different backgrounds, with extra numerous life experiences.
However few may lay declare to as uncommon and distressing a life as Jihyun Park, the 52-year-old Conservative native council candidate for Bury who spent the primary 40 years of her life operating from the North Korean authorities.
Her lengthy journey to the UK concerned leaving her household behind, being smuggled throughout the border into China – twice – by human traffickers, serving years in a tough labour camp as a prisoner, and being bought into the intercourse slave commerce.
Mrs Park, now a human rights campaigner and refugee, was born in North Hamgyong Province within the rural north of the nation within the late Sixties.
“As a baby, I didn’t know what it meant to have a full abdomen as a result of we have been at all times hungry,” she says.
“The Authorities completely managed our freedoms: freedom of speech, the liberty of politicians, all the pieces. Life in North Korea was like slavery.”
Mrs Park recollects with ache the North Korean famine, which crippled the nation within the Nineties after the USSR collapsed and ended monetary help to the regime.
Official estimates of the quantity killed are unsure, however her uncle was amongst tons of of 1000’s who died of hunger, whereas she suspects her father’s demise adopted shortly after she and her brother determined to attempt to escape into China.
“Everybody noticed useless our bodies on the street, of their neighbours and relations,” she stated.
“I left my unwell father alone within the chilly eating room. I nonetheless don’t know when he handed away or the place his physique is.”
Mrs Park and her brother have been smuggled throughout the mountainous border by intercourse traffickers, who separated them and bought her to a Chinese language farmer, for round £500.
Her brother was captured and despatched again to North Korea. She by no means noticed him once more.
For 5 years she lived as a housewife in captivity, sheltering from the eyes of the Chinese language authorities, who routinely despatched defectors again throughout the border as political prisoners.
On being found, she too was returned to North Korea and imprisoned in a labour camp. “We have been handled like animals,” she stated.
“We labored with out sneakers within the mountains, and in farming areas, rising corn and beans.
“There have been stones and glass in all places, so our toes have been typically bleeding, they usually didn’t care.”
Her launch got here solely after a lower on her foot grew to become so badly contaminated she was now not capable of stroll.
“They let me go as a result of I couldn’t work. My temperature was 40 levels and my leg was oozing yellow fluid,” she says.
“The swelling was disgusting and my hair and pores and skin color modified. I regarded inhuman, they usually stated I mustn’t die within the jail – I ought to die outdoors.”
However outdoors the jail gates, and determined to flee the nation and discover freedom, Mrs Park contacted one other intercourse trafficking ring and requested them to move her throughout the border once more in the dark.
After scrambling by means of the mountains on her injured leg with a dealer, Mrs Park received right into a taxi and satisfied the driving force, a spy for the Chinese language authorities, that she had been injured by a snail chunk whereas out trekking.
The driving force determined to not report them to the police, foregoing a good-looking reward, and allowed them to proceed their journey.
Realising that his life had been saved by the girl he deliberate to promote into slavery in China, the trafficker let her stroll free.
“He stated that I saved him and his household, who have been nonetheless in North Korea. So this time, he saved me,” she stated.
Now free in China however attempting to go away the nation, Mrs Park met the love of her life in a failed escape try throughout the Mongolian border.
“There was a two metre excessive fence, and Chinese language police patrolling the border space,” she explains.
“I noticed a police automobile proper in entrance of me, and I used to be actually scared I’d be caught.
“However this man, who had already crossed the border and couldn’t discover me, got here again to rescue me.
“He saved me and afterwards, I fell in love with him.”
Mrs Park enlisted the assistance of an American-Korean pastor for her and that man – now her husband – to hunt refuge in Europe by means of the United Nations. In January 2008, they arrived in Britain, prepared to start a brand new life.
However for a lady who had spent her life in captivity, the distinction was stark.
“I arrived at Heathrow and I used to be shocked,” she recollects.
“I had discovered concerning the historical past of England once I was in North Korea, and I discovered that males at all times wore a hat, and girls wore a gown. I had imagined that it was a very romantic nation.
“However once I arrived, folks have been carrying the identical as us – trousers and denims, the identical as Asian types.”
Mrs Park started work on human rights and advocacy for North Korean defectors, armed with English expertise and a Maths GCSE qualification.
Now she is getting ready her marketing campaign for Might’s native elections, when she’s going to stand as a Conservative candidate in Bury, Higher Manchester.
So, after a lifetime of operating from dictators, intercourse trafficking rings and political imprisonment, why does Jihyun wish to spend life as a free girl in native politics?
“The final yr has been actually tough for folks all around the world,” she says.
“On daily basis, I sit down and listen to how many individuals have died from Covid. That’s actually painful for me, as a result of I’ve already seen the useless our bodies piled up in North Korea.”
Mrs Park says native folks “want somebody to hearken to their voice,” and describes the Conservative Occasion as a beacon of “freedom, justice and a contented life with household”.
However sidestepping a query about whether or not she would ever contemplate operating to be an MP, she describes the position of councillor as much less politician and extra “neighborhood chief”.
“After I got here to the UK, English folks helped me and welcomed me, and I’ll at all times be grateful to them,” she says.
“They gave me challenges and alternatives, and a brand new life. “Now I will pay again the individuals who helped me.”