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Inside the secretive organisation smuggling people along a 3,000-mile route out of North Korea

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I’m the first one in my family to escape. Now that I know it’s not impossible, I want to bring the rest of my family out,” says Gim Sung, a defector from North Korea who risked brutal punishment to flee Kim Jong-un’s hermit kingdom in search of a better life.

Although the number of people fleeing North Korea dwindled dramatically during the pandemic, before 2020 thousands would attempt the perilous journey every year, despite knowing that they will be sent to one of the country’s notorious prison camps if they are caught.

Some, like Gim, make it safely to neighbouring South Korea, and go on to tell the tale. Others are not so lucky, at least at the first attempt, particularly if they first try crossing the large, porous land border into China, which has a policy of returning defectors en masse to its allies in Pyongyang.

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