Millions of people will be voting for the first time when Britain goes to the polls next week, but none of them have quite the same story to tell as 72-year-old Park Seong-cheo. Park is a North Korean defector living in London who received his British citizenship two months ago in time for the election. He says that because of the language barrier he is relying on South Korean television for most of his news about the campaigns. “The concept of voting is unfamiliar to me,” says Park, who has lived in the UK for eight years. Another first-time democratic voter Jihyun Park says she has been taken back by the variety of policies in the campaign manifestos. She has been following the TV debates and says her personal priorities are refugees and tuition fees. Her eldest son is set to go to university next year.
Jihyun, 46, arrived UK in 2008 with the support of a South Korean Christian association. Her escape, which was portrayed in the film Under a Different Sky, involved fleeing from North Korea twice. The first time she was caught and repatriated back to prison camp before she escaped again. She now lives in Manchester with her husband and and three children.
We meet in the Free NK newspaper – a “democracy newspaper” for North Koreans – offices above the canteen of Korea Foods in New Malden. Nestled in an unassuming industrial park in earshot of the A3, the wholesale supermarket is one of the area’s most successful businesses and a hub for the Korean community.