Wed, Jan 07, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Slaves endure ‘living hell’ on remote South Korean islands

Disabled people are forced to toil 18 hours a day for little or no pay on salt farms on South Korea’s isolated ‘Angel Islands,’ with entire communities, including the police, colluding in their slavery

By Foster Klug  /  AP, SINUI ISLAND, South Korea

He looked, Seo said, like a person who had been homeless for a very long time.

Kim was frightened and baffled at first, then relieved.

“I am going to live,” he said.

When Seo took Kim to a local police station to give an official account, an indignant policeman said: “Why didn’t you leave this to us?”

Villagers, unaware that Kim’s escorts were Seoul police, harassed him at the docks, asking where he was going. Some even called Hong.

When Kim met his mother the next day, they both wept. She stroked her son’s face.

“Everything is all right, because you’ve come back alive,” she says in a police video of their reunion.

Chae initially refused to leave Sinui. After Seo later found a 2008 missing person’s report for Chae, police returned and rescued him. Chae, who had spent five years as a slave, now lives in a Seoul shelter.

Hong was convicted of employing a trafficked person, aggravated confinement, habitual violence and violating labor laws. Yoon, the man who captured Kim and Chae three times, was fined US$7,500.

Two illegal job brokers hired by Hong to procure workers are appealing prison sentences of two years and two-and-a-half years.

Kim, who lives in Seoul and occasionally works construction jobs, still seems amazed that his escape plan worked.

He settled with Hong for about US$35,000 in unpaid wages, but is furious that Hong is appealing his prison term.

Kim planned to face him in court, and was preparing for the moment.

His body aches and he gets treatment for lingering pain in his neck, legs and spine.

“Now all I want is peace,” Kim said. “I still get nightmares, still wake up in the middle of the night.”

His time as a slave has even changed the way he feels about salt. He gets flustered when he talks about it, disgusted when he sees it.

“Just thinking about it makes me grind my teeth,” he said.

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