June 04, 2023

From Middle-Kingdom to Middle-Classdom: North Korean Defectors in London

After China, the UK is home to one of the largest populations of North Korean defectors in the world. Tom Farrell reports from outside the North Korean embassy in London where defectors often protest Kim Jong Un's regime

Just around the corner from the Acton Town railway it seems as if there is some corner of an English field that is forever North Korean.Approximately one hundred books have been laid out on the pavement beside No. 73 Gunnersby Avenue, the North Korean embassy in the UK. Most are in Korean but they also include several acclaimed international titles such as Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick or Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Shin Dong-hyuk and Blaine Harden.

Some have harrowing images of malnourished children and barbed wire on their covers. All are at odds with the image North Korea is trying to convey to the outside world, one where harvests are bountiful and factories are places of roaring productivity. It is an image the diplomats in the 1920s detached house a few metres away, with its bay windows and pillared portico, doubtless do their best to propagate.