Dallas man who escaped North Korea credits former President George W. Bush for his freedom

dallas – Joseph Kim is not someone who takes his Independence Day for granted.

"The best way to protect our freedom is to share it with people who are not yet free."

Kim knows what it's like not to be free. 

As a young boy growing up in the communist dictatorship of North Korea, Kim says his mother was sent to a prison camp for trying to escape, and his older sister was sold to a man in China.

Then, during a famine, his dad starved to death. "I became homeless and an orphan at 12 years old, lived on the street as a beggar, surviving by stealing food, begging, working in coal mines." 

Kim said he did that for three years until one winter day in 2006, when he was 15, and made what became a life-changing decision.  "I decided to escape because the choices that I had were either I could die from hunger from starvation like many homeless children did or I could try to escape. I decided to take that risk."

He was living in the North Korean city of Hoeryong. 

Kim told CBS News Texas that he made his daring escape by crossing the narrow and frozen Tumen River into Yanji, China in broad daylight. 

It was even more risky he said because soldiers stood guard along the river and had orders to shoot to kill anyone who tried to leave. "In short, it was a miracle I made it."

Kim said soldiers never saw him cross into China. "Totally undetected. I think literally the soldiers were not paying attention. Trying to escape that border, even at night, is almost committing suicide." 

He lived in China for a year. "I went house to house asking for leftover food."

Kim said he eventually met a group founded by American college students that helped him get to the United States in 2007.

His journey here was only possible he said because former President George W. Bush signed the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, allowing those who escaped from that brutal regime to come to the U.S. as legal refugees. 

Kim said, "After the president left the White House, he wanted to continue supporting these North Korean defectors, recognizing their struggles and potential."

He first met former President Bush in 2014, then again in 2016 at the Bush Institute during a forum on freedom in North Korea.

After Kim introduced the former President, they embraced each other.

At the forum, Bush praised Kim when addressing audience members, who included former U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, and Vice-Presidential nominee for Al Gore in 2000. "It brings great joy to my heart to be introduced by Joseph Kim. This guy is one incredibly courageous person. He's seen the full horror of oppression in North Korea." 

The Bush Institute says between 2006 and May of this year, there have been 224 North Korean escapees admitted to the United States.

In 2017, the George Bush Institute launched the Lindsay Lloyd North Korea Freedom Scholarship to help North Korean escapees and their children go to college. 

Since then, the Institute has awarded $350,000 through 84 scholarships, including Kim.

Kim said the former President calls him a friend, but he considers Bush so much more. "He's my personal hero and role model." 

Now a U.S. citizen, he voted for the first time during the 2020 election.

He has worked at the Bush Institute for five years helping other people who escaped the same brutal dictatorship he did. 

But Kim is broadening his horizons again and will attend Harvard University this fall to continue his studies. "It makes me grateful to have a life that I have here, and it reminds me of the incredible gift of living in a free country, being able to pursue your passions and dreams while helping others. It means a lot." 

Watch Jack Fink's full interview with Joseph Kim below:

Dallas man who escaped N. Korea celebrates his freedom, credits former President Bush

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Jack Fink


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