National Geographic : 2009 Feb
• THE MOMENT OF ARRIVAL WAS OVERWHELMING. "I KEPT TOUCHING MY FACE, THINKING, IS THIS REAL, IS THIS A DREAM?" was horrible," White said. When people left, they sold their precious space, getting $400 for roughly two square feet. People who couldn t a ord to pay ended up standing against a wall during the day and sleeping at night inside the toilet stalls. With help from Durihana, White and Red each bought three square feet. The men s side was also squalid, but less crowded. (Since then conditions have improved, as the South Korean government has sped up its admissions process, thinning out the crowd.) A er nearly 80 days of con nement in ai- land, Red, White, and Black were told to gather their meager belongings for the last leg of their journey. A plane was waiting. Nothing prepares North Koreans for the impact of Seoul. For Red, the moment of arrival was overwhelming. "I kept touching my face, thinking, Is this real, is this a dream?" she said, recalling the sensation of watching buildings and streets bloom beneath her as she landed at Incheon International Airport. en came A Durihana pickup truck found them on the ai side. It took them to a bus station, and ten hours later the group reached a Durihana shel- ter in Bangkok. ere they ate their best meal in weeks and used cell phones to call friends in China to tell them they were safe. "Our prayers have been answered," Black cried out. e next morning a missionary drove the defectors to the South Korean diplomatic mission, where they requested asylum. And then they entered a new limbo. A er their names were added to a long waiting list, they were bused to an immigration detention center, where they would be warehoused for months, until South Korean o cials processed their paperwork. Defectors entered the packed detention center as fast as they were released to South Korea---30 to 40 a week while the trio was there. In the women s section of the detention center, 450 people were crammed inside a space built for half that many. " ere was no room to sit or sleep. Only two toilets worked, and the air SOUTH KOREA I Before moving to an apartment, Black spent eight weeks at the Hanawon resettlement facility (left), where aid workers and loved ones wait to greet refugees on release days. Now he works a construction job during the day, saving money to rescue his family from North Korea. At night he savors the bright lights and high spirits of Seoul (right).