A NORTH Korean defector who settled in the area in 2008 has been selected to stand as a candidate for Bury Council.

Jihyun Park, who lives in Bury, has been selected as a prospective candidate for the Holyrood ward in Prestwich for the Conservatives, the next time elections are held.

The 52-year-old is believed to be the first person of North Korean descent to stand for election in the UK.

She escaped from North Korea in 1998 and became a British citizen after suffering forced repatriation in China. Jihyun is now a language tutor and acts as a human rights rep for North Korean refugees in the UK.

For this, the mother-of-three jointly won the UK’s ‘2018 Asian Women’s Awards’ and in 2020 Amnesty International's 'Brave' award.

She worked as a schoolteacher when famine struck her country in the 90s. Her uncle and father starved to death. Fearful they would die too if they did not escape, Jihyun and her brother fled to China in 1998.

But they were separated as they crossed the border, her brother being sent back to North Korea. Jihyun was a victim of human trafficking, sold into a forced marriage to a Chinese farmer, with whom she had a child.

In 2004, she was arrested and sent back to North Korea, where she faced torture and persecution in a forced labour camp. She developed gangrene, and the guards threw her out of prison because they believed she was close to death. A kind stranger nursed her back to health and helped her to escape and reunite with her son.

Now living in the Fairfield area of Bury, Jihyun campaigns for North Korean rights.

Jihyun, said: “When I was was growing up in North Korea we didn’t know there was anything outside the country really. We lost some of my family and every day I saw dead bodies. In comparison my life in the UK is heaven.

“I’m happy here and get on with my neighbours in Bury. I think of Bury as my home town now. At first I didn’t know any English and most North Korean refugees live in London. But I wanted to stay here. My daughter was born here.

“There are no other North Koreans in Bury but in Manchester there are a few.”

Asked what motivated her to engage with local politics, she said: “It’s been a difficult year all over the world with people separated form families. I want to stand up and maybe help voiceless people get their concerns heard.”

Elections were due in May in Bury but there has been no confirmation from government that they will go ahead as planned. The Holyrood ward is a Liberal Democrat stronghold.

Bury North MP James Daly said: "It’s truly inspiring that Jihyun is standing for a seat on Bury Council. She is making history here and I look forward to working with her to make Bury an even better place.”