SEOUL, Dec. 5 -- A North Korean family that took an arduous journey through China is in Hong Kong seeking political asylum in South Korea, the Foreign Ministry in Seoul said Thursday. The 16 family members and one North Korean security officer arrived in Hong Kong late last month from China, spokesman Suh Dae-won said.
Kim Kyong-ho and wife Choi Hyon-shil led children and grandchildren on an escape from North Korea through China that lasted more than a month, Suh said. The woman's father, who lives in the United States, reportedly paid to have the security officer and ethnic Koreans in China aid their escape. All 17 have applied for political asylum in South Korea, citing severe food shortages in the North, Suh said. They are currently in a refugee camp in Hong Kong, where authorities have requested the assistance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Suh said. A man and his 17-year-old daughter arrived in Seoul on a similar route in October. More than 40 defectors, including one man who floated south on bicycle inner tubes and a pilot who escaped in his MiG-19 fighter jet, have sought asylum in South Korea this year. Most cite economic hardships and food shortages as their reason for escaping North Korea, an isolated communist nation that has suffered sharp economic contraction since 1990 and severe floods the past two summers. Rice and other food rations were cut to borderline starvation levels following floods last August that damaged 30 percent of the arable land and left about 500,000 people homeless, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reported.