12 Images

New start for North Korean refugees

Members of Los Angeles Korean Methodist Church embrace North Korean refugee Na “Naomi” Omi (back to camera). Na Omi was one of several defectors brought through an underground railroad of safehouses and agents set up by the church’s pastor, Chun Ki Won. (Bryan Chan / LAT)
North Korean refugee Shin ChanMi, left, helps Christine Kim and her sister Emily from a minivan as they head to dinner in Tustin. The Kims are members of Bethel Korean Church of Irvine, one of a coaliton of more than 2,000 Korean churches nationwide that has offered lodging, food and jobs to help North Koreans resettling in the U.S. (Bryan Chan / LAT)
Shin ChanMi, left, and her brother Joseph watch a live performance at Universal Studios. Joseph wears a T-shirt that says “Same Same” on the front and “But Different” on the back. ChanMi, 20, carries a $15 stuffed animal she bought at an airport shop enroute to L.A. and hasn’t put down since. (Bryan Chan / LAT)
Na Omi, left, and Shin ChanMi weep as Pastor Chun leads a laying of hands prayer for their group at Los Angeles Korean Methodist Church. The refugees are some of the first to be brought through the underground railroad for resettlement in the U.S. (Bryan Chan / LAT)
Shin ChanMi, right, and her brother Joseph, far right, ham it up with fellow North Korean refugees on a visit to Disneyland. (Bryan Chan / LAT)
Pastor Chun leads a prayer for North Korean refugees at Los Angeles Korean Methodist Church, a U.S. chapter of Chun’s Durihana mission based in Seoul. At the service, church members contributed more than $15,000 to Chun’s efforts to bring more North Korean defectors out of China via his underground railroad. Chun, a businessman-turned-preacher living in Seoul, has been helping defectors since a visit to China in 1999. (Bryan Chan / LAT)
Refugee Joseph Shin talks about his life in North Korea. He was able to escape to China, but was caught by Chinese police trying to escape to Mongolia with his girlfriend. Shin was sent back to prison in North Korea, where he was tortured. He escaped again to China and was reunited after eight years with his little sister, ChanMi. The two are now working in New York. (Bryan Chan / LAT)
Pastor Chun dabs a tear as the refugees recount their stories to international media in L.A. The defectors are the first group of North Koreans to be repatriated in the U.S. Chun has succeeded in moving more than 500 North Koreans living clandestinely in China to freedom via his underground railroad. (Bryan Chan / LAT)
Pastor Chun, left, gives encouragement to Shin ChanMi, 20, as she tells her story to international media at a press conference in Los Angeles. Shin was sold as a wife to men in China who raped and abused her. Nearly all North Korean women who cross the porous border into China are sold sooner or later as wives or sex slaves, defectors say, because they have no legal rights and if caught, face deportation back to North Korea’s gulags. (Bryan Chan / LAT)
North Korean refugees Ha “Hannah” Nah, left, and Na “Naomi” Omi weep at their single press conference held in Los Angeles, as they listen to their fellow refugees recount the abuses and torture they endued in China and North Korea. The accounts reminded them of what they had endured in their repressive homeland and while living clandestinely in China. (Bryan Chan / LAT)
During a stay in Los Angeles, Chun has a pillow fight with Shin. The six North Korean refugees were spirited out of China to sympathetic nations that will grant the defectors exit visas. (Bryan Chan / LAT)
Shin says grace before dinner in Tustin. With her is her constant companion, a stuffed bear she calls “Badook” — my friend. Shin snuck out of North Korea into China at age 16 to keep from starving, but found herself caught in a cycle of kidnapping and slavery once she got there. Shin eventually escaped to freedom with help from the underground railroad. She is now an apprentice at a nail salon in New York. (Bryan Chan / LAT)