Surviving South Korea's house of horrors

Survivors of the notorious Brothers Home describe being grabbed off the streets, abused and held against their will.

[Richard Smith/Al Jazeera]
[Richard Smith/Al Jazeera]

Warning: This article contains content, including descriptions of sexual violence, that some readers may find disturbing.

South Korea’s infamous Brothers Home welfare centre was supposed to provide shelter and care for the homeless. Instead, it was a house of horrors where inmates were illegally confined, brutally beaten, raped — and even killed.

Located in the southern port city of Busan, it operated between 1976 and 1987 under the then authoritarian government’s policy of “purifying the streets”, known as ordinance No. 410. In the lead up to the 1986 Asian Games and 1988 Olympic Games, the government was gearing up to showcase the country to the world and wanted "vagrants" removed from the streets and out of sight.

But only 10 percent of the thousands of inmates at Brothers Home were homeless according to a 1987 investigation by local prosecutors. None of the nine survivors Al Jazeera’s 101 East interviewed had lived on the streets.

They are now calling for members of the family who ran Brothers Home to be extradited from Australia to face a Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s investigation into the horrific abuses at the home.

Watch our story as we track down those in Sydney, Australia, who were allegedly behind the atrocities committed at Brothers Home.

[Richard Smith/Al Jazeera]
[Richard Smith/Al Jazeera]

Hahn Jong-seon - 'We were swept away like rubbish'

Hahn Jong-seon was just nine years old when he and his older sister were forcibly taken to South Korea’s Brothers Home.

Their single father had left them in the care of the local police while he went to run errands at the market.

“My dad told us to wait for him at the station,” he recalls. “He promised us he would come back to get us.”

But just a few hours later, three men in blue tracksuits pushed them onto a truck. It was bound for Brothers Home.

Confused and scared, Hahn says he cried uncontrollably in the back of the truck while his sister cradled him in her arms.

“The guard slapped my face so hard to keep me quiet. I remember it being so loud, I passed out,” he says.

Hahn Jong-seon was nine years old when he was taken to Brothers Home [101 East/Al Jazeera]

Hahn awoke to the sound of a large iron gate being dragged across concrete. They were led with a group of others into a building, where they were ordered to strip naked for a physical examination.

“They checked whether anyone had any tattoos,” he says. “Some people protested about why they were being stripped.”

“The guards started swearing at them ‘you f**ing ass****’, and beat them up.”

Hahn was sent to the children’s platoon, while his sister was led to the female platoon.

Hahn’s sister struggled to accept their predicament and made futile attempts to escape from the facility.

Hahn Jong-seon with his ID number at Brothers Home [Supplied]

Every morning she would sneak into Hahn's platoon, and grab his hand.

“She was breaking the rules. I had to witness the leader drag my sister away by the hair and then beat her up. My sister would scream and cry, ‘Jong-san! Let’s go home!’”, he recalls.

He pauses and takes a deep breath before continuing.

“The leader forced me to repeat after him “You f**king bitch… Don’t ever come back.”

“As her younger brother, I had to say this, I felt so miserable and guilty.”

Hahn’s sister was eventually confined to the Brothers Home’s psychiatric ward.

“The beatings, torture and punishments wouldn’t stop her from coming to get me. So they had these unauthorised tablets called CPZ, psychiatric tablets, and forced her to take them.”

“My sister started having psychiatric problems soon after.”

Hahn's drawing of one of the incidents that continues to haunt him [Illustration courtesy of Hahn Jong-seon]

Now 46, Hahn creates models and graphic illustrations to expose the horrific crimes committed against the inmates at the facility.

There is one particular memory that haunts him - the time he witnessed a young inmate being bludgeoned to death. The inmate was having an epileptic seizure but, Hahn says, “the [platoon] leader thought he was faking it, and started beating him with a wooden bat”.

He gestures to indicate the force of the strikes.

“The boy regained consciousness and grabbed the leader’s leg and begged for forgiveness. But the leader was angry. He ruthlessly beat him, and then went ‘bang!’ on his head with the bat.”

“The boy collapsed, his eyes rolled to the back of his head, and blood started oozing out.”

Hahn says the boy’s body was taken away.

Hahn Jong-seon with a model of one of the platoons at Brothers Home [101 East/Al Jazeera]

When Brothers Home was shut down during ongoing investigations in 1987, Hahn and his sister were taken away to different orphanages.

For the next two and half decades, Hahn suffered alone and in silence as he struggled with his trauma, and the loss of his family. He questioned his existence and purpose in life. Unable to contain his anger, he decided that he had two options.

“Like a psychopath, I was going to kill everyone around me. I felt this was the only way I could get people to listen to my story,” he says.

The alternative option for him was to start a lone year-long protest in front of South Korea’s National Assembly. He chose the latter.

“We were already labelled as vagrants all our lives, we didn’t need to be labelled as psychopaths as well," he says.

Holding a placard with the details of the abuse he endured and a picture of himself as a nine-year-old boy, he stood outside the entrance to the National Assembly as politicians passed by.

Hahn Jong-seon protesting to expose the human rights abuses he and fellow inmates endured at Brothers Home [Courtesy of Brothers Home Welfare Center Incident Countermeasures Committee]

This humble protest sowed the seeds of Hahn’s 10-year fight for justice, as he led protests around the country to expose the horrific human rights abuses he and his fellow inmates endured at the facility.

People started to take notice and, with the support of human rights groups, his story was published as a novel, and then picked up by multiple local media outlets.

Park Lae-gun, an internationally respected human rights advocate, says Hahn’s testimonies and his graphic drawings about his daily life at Brothers Home were shocking.

“He was just a little kid, a nine-year-old, claiming to have experienced these horrific human rights abuses,” he says.

“We had heard about the abuses inside the facility, but what was portrayed in his pictures was beyond people’s imagination.”

Park attributes Hahn’s book, along with the relentless and powerful protests with fellow survivor Choi Seung-woo, as being pivotal to the passing of the Special Law in 2020 that ultimately led to the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to reinvestigate the historical case.

Hahn Jong-seon standing behind his sister, with his father sitting to her left [101 East/Al Jazeera]

Today, Hahn spends his days finding and collecting testimonies of former inmates to submit to the Commission, which was launched in May this year.

He has since located his sister and father. His sister had ended up at a psychiatric hospital, unable to overcome the trauma she endured at Brothers Home.

He says the only path to healing is for those responsible to come forward and accept their wrongdoings.

“We were victims of the government’s bid to ‘purify’ the streets ahead of the 1988 Olympics. We were swept away like rubbish,” he says.

“The South Korean government needs to acknowledge what they have done wrong and ask us for forgiveness.”

Choi Seung-woo [101 East/Al Jazeera]
Choi Seung-woo [101 East/Al Jazeera]

Choi Seung-woo - 'Why did they have to destroy my family?'

It was the Spring of 1982 and 14-year-old Choi Seung-woo was walking home from school when he was grabbed off the street by a policeman and accused of stealing a piece of bread that was in his bag.

He says the officer held a hot lighter to his testicles until he confessed to the petty crime. He was then hauled onto a truck and taken to Brothers Home.

“There was nobody else in the vehicle. It was just me,” he recalls.

“It was so dark, I couldn’t see anything.”

The site of Brothers Home was only a ten-minute drive from the local police station. Having lived in the local area for a number of years, Choi says he was shocked when he got off the truck.

Before him was a giant iron gate about eight metres wide and four metres high. The site was barricaded by high concrete walls.

“I had never seen such a place before.”

After a physical examination, Choi was then led to a bathing room where he was instructed to wash thoroughly.

Two days later Choi says he was brutally violated.

“The platoon leader stripped all my clothes off, washed me in cold water, and ordered me to lie naked on his bed,” he recalls.

He looks down as he describes what happened next.

“I was so scared.”

“That night, the platoon leader raped me so bad, I was bleeding from the bottom. It was excruciating.”

For the next five years, Choi says he was raped almost daily, with platoon and group leaders - other inmates who had risen to positions of power - taking turns. He says he tried to report it to management, only to be reprimanded, beaten and moved to a new platoon, where the abuse would begin again.

“The mental and physical damage that was inflicted upon me was something I never imagined,” he says.

Choi takes a deep breath, pauses, and stares ahead in anguish.

“Why was I here, and why did I have to endure this abuse? I told them what I had told the police officers, my house is nearby. I live with my grandmother, and she is waiting for me. Please send me home. I cried and begged them. But all I got in return was horrific physical abuse.”

Choi Seung-woo aged 14, just before he was forcibly taken to Brothers Home [101 East/Al Jazeera]

In 1985, three years after he was detained, Choi says he had an unlikely reunion with his younger brother who had just turned 14 at the Home.

“When I recognised him in the dining room, I didn’t know what to say. I just had tears rolling down my face,” he says as his eyes glistened with tears.

His brother, Jae-ho had been playing alone at a gaming store, when a policeman took him in. Choi says during that time, the local police and Brothers Home had ramped up their efforts to pick up anyone they deemed a "vagrant". Their excuse was that they were acting under a presidential directive aimed at cleaning up the streets ahead of the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

“I could see my little brother struggling to adapt at the Home. It hurt me so much because I could only watch him from afar.”

“I wanted to say something or call out his name, but I was afraid we would both get in trouble and be beaten.”

Choi Seung-woo had been living with his grandmother when he was grabbed off the streets and taken to Brothers Home [101 East/Al Jazeera]

By early 1986, with an increasing number of people escaping from Brothers Home, rumours had started circulating in the local community about the kidnapping, illegal detention and horrific abuse at the enclosed facility.

Choi’s grandmother, who had reported both of her grandsons missing to the police and had searched for them for years, heard the rumours. She urged Choi’s father to try looking for his sons at the Home.

Choi says his father was initially turned away from the front gate, and it was only when he started causing a disturbance, demanding to see his sons, that the guards finally agreed to release them.

“As my brother and I were leaving, I looked at him, and I just started wailing,” Choi says.

“I asked him, ‘Are you okay? Are you hurt?’ I remember just holding him and crying my heart out,”

“I couldn’t believe this was real, I had survived,” he says.

By this time, Choi was 19 years old and weighed just 37kg. His brother was 17, and weighed just 35kg.

Unable to overcome the trauma from his time at Brothers Home, Choi Seung-woo's younger brother took his own life [101 East/Al Jazeera]

The freedom that Choi and his brother had so desperately yearned for, however, did not come easy.

The stigma attached to having stayed at Brothers Home continued to stalk their lives. They were labelled as vagrants, criminals, and as uneducated.

Having spent years isolated and disconnected from society, they were unable to find stable employment and adapt to South Korea’s emerging modern society.

Choi fell into depression and became involved in criminal gang activity, while his brother struggled to overcome the trauma he had experienced at the facility.

In October 2009, his brother took his own life. Choi recalls cradling his deceased brother in his arms.

“I went to his house at 11 in the morning, and I held him for hours… I told him ‘I’m so sorry.’ I wasn’t able to protect him,” says Choi as his voice trembles with sadness and agony.

“Our past at Brothers Home had totally torn apart our family and cut off our future.”

“Why, why did they have to destroy my family like this?”

Choi Seung-woo campaigned for justice for the survivors of Brothers Home [101 East/Al Jazeera]

Choi and fellow victim Hahn were instrumental in the passing of the Special Law in 2020 that ultimately led to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to reinvestigate the Brothers Home case.

The two had tirelessly campaigned around the country prior to the law passing, with Choi famously camping out on the rooftop of the National Assembly last year.

Choi, now 53, says it is their job to ensure the Commission thoroughly investigates the case, so that the former inmates finally get the justice they so relentlessly fought for.

[Richard Smith/Al Jazeera]
[Richard Smith/Al Jazeera]

Kang Shin-woo - 'If there was a hell, this place was it'

Kang Shin-woo was 23, and mourning the sudden death of his long-term partner and their 10-month-old baby in a car accident, when he was taken to Brothers Home.

“The pain was unbearable,” he recalls. “I became an alcoholic, and drank my sorrows away.”

Devastated and alone, Kang was at his most vulnerable when a Christian missionary in Busan offered to pray for him at one of the biggest churches in the city.

That church turned out to be the Saemaeum Church, an enormous white building located at the pinnacle of the Brothers Home site.

With an elevated podium at the front, the church had the capacity to seat up to 3,500 inmates and was built with their slave labour.

Saemaeum Church, built with the slave labour of the inmates, was located at the pinnacle of the Brothers Home site and could fit up to 3,500 people [Courtesy of Brothers Home Welfare Center Incident Countermeasures Committee]

“It was only when I got there, I completely snapped back into reality,” he says, his eyes widening.

“If there was a hell, this place was it. I was so shocked.”

“They treated humans like animals. If you didn’t listen to your superiors, you were bashed on the spot.”

Kang says he was forced to work at a construction site, breaking stones with his bare hands.

But angry and confused as to why he was being held against his will, he tried to defy orders.

“I was making a living and putting food on the table,” he says angrily. “I said, ‘Who the hell do you think you are to incarcerate and force me into this f***ing labour?’”

“I retaliated and tried to fight them. But what did I get in return?”

“Five of the [inmate] leaders ganged up on me, and beat me up.”

Kang Shin-woo was forced to work at a construction site at Brothers Home [101 East/Al Jazeera]

He was beaten so badly that he was unconscious for a week and left with permanent paralysis.

“They had tied me up, and smashed my head on the concrete,” he recalls.

“When I woke up, honestly, I was so shocked. My left arm and leg would not move.”

Labelled as “crazy”, Kang was placed in a psychiatric ward and forced to take an antipsychotic drug for two years.

“When I took these drugs, for about eight to 10 hours, I was in a complete daze [each time].”

“If I tried to not take it, or tried to spit it out, one person would squeeze my nose, and the other person would pour water down my throat,” he explains.

“I ended up becoming a real psychiatric patient.”

A photo of Kang Shin-woo taken when he was sent to Brothers Home [101 East/Al Jazeera]

In early 1987, Kang was transferred to a local hospital, and from there, he wrote a letter to his father. Within a week, his father came to see him, and took him home.

Shocked at his son’s mental and physical changes, his father immediately contacted a human rights lawyer, who put him in touch with the local prosecutor who was then investigating Brothers Home for embezzlement and illegal confinement.

Hopeful that the prosecutor would expose the horrific crimes he had witnessed at the facility, he wrote a three-page affidavit as evidence to give to the court.

But with Director Park In-keun having connections with powerful members of government, he says his testimony fell on deaf ears.

“I was a living victim and witness to all the terrifying and horrendous abuses that were happening there,” he says.

“But even the prosecutor at the time was pressured from the top to halt the investigation.”

“So what power would we have over the injustice we suffered? Who could we tell?”

Kang Shin-woo reading his 1987 affidavit. It says: 'This place is pure hell. A place not habitable for humans, the South Korean version of North Korea. There are innocent people there being abused, made disabled and normal people are forced to take anti-psychotic drugs. Please what crime have we committed?' [101 East/Al Jazeera]

Kang watched in anger as the sentencing of Director Park In-keun for embezzlement was reported in the news. Park was acquitted of illegal confinement, the court citing that he had acted under Ordinance No. 410, a government directive allowing the abduction and detention of those deemed to be “vagrants”.

“Two years and six months! Are you kidding me?” he shouts.

“I felt the whole thing was full of sh*t. I could only live with huge resentment against the judges and this country.”

Now 60, Kang says he hopes the Truth and Reconciliation Commission exposes the injustice that the inmates faced.

“Because of one person’s materialistic and selfish ambitions, he kidnapped and abused thousands of innocent people, all because he wanted to feed and maximise his family’s wealth,” he says.

“The family has benefitted and lived a good life from the sacrifices we have made. Their assets need to be seized and returned to the country, and I hope these will then be used appropriately to help the needs of the victims.”

Hwang Jung-bok [101 East/Al Jazeera]
Hwang Jung-bok [101 East/Al Jazeera]

Hwang Jung-bok - 'I saw his skull explode'

Hwang Jung-bok was 11 years old when he wandered away from his mother at Busan train station in 1976.

After looking for her for an hour, he decided to seek help at a nearby police station.

But, instead of being helped, he was pushed onto a truck and taken to Brothers Home, where his head was shaved and he was photographed with an identification number.

“You could say after that day, it was the end of the real Hwang Jung-bok’s life, and the beginning of my nightmare,” he says with a deep sigh.

[Illustration courtesy of Hahn Jong-seon]

Hwang’s nightmare at Brothers Home lasted 10 years.

There, he witnessed and experienced brutal beatings, and was subjected to harsh forced labour.

“They would bring the sand, and the 14- and 15-year-olds were forced early in the morning to carry sacks weighing 20 to 30 kilograms, back and forth [to the construction site]. It was a nightmare,” he recalls.

He says every so often an inmate would lose their will to survive.

“We were on our way to the dining room, and this guy, he suddenly started running up the stairs of the building and jumped off and landed on his head, right in front of the children’s platoon,” he says as his eyes fill with tears.

“Honestly, I didn’t know the sound of a person’s head exploding could make such a loud splitting sound.

“I saw his skull explode open.”

During Easter and Christmas, inmates were forced to dress up in robes and reenact Biblical scenes for domestic and international guests [Courtesy of Brothers Home Welfare Center Incident Countermeasures Committee]

Brothers Home presented itself to the public as a compassionate shelter with strong Christian values, but Hwang says the facility used religion to justify abusing the inmates.

Their day started at 5:30am with hymns and a sermon from the then Director and Pastor Lim Young-soon.

He says inmates were beaten with wooden bats if they fidgeted or talked during service, and if several were caught dozing off, the whole platoon would be forced to sing hymns through the night as punishment.

Hwang says he was also forced to perform in Christian plays for local and international guests during Christmas and Easter.

“I played Jesus, and our efforts were compensated with boiled Easter eggs,” he says with a bewildered expression.

“This to me is still a nightmare.”

Unaccompanied children of all ages were classified as ‘neglected’ or ‘vagrants’ by the local police and were abducted and taken to Brothers Home [Courtesy of Brothers Home Welfare Center Incident Countermeasures Committee]

Hwang says he attempted to escape several times.

“I was a child with a home, parents and siblings. I just couldn’t understand why I was there,” he says.

“Why was I trapped in this place and being robbed of a proper education?”

Pastor Lim oversaw a highly publicised campaign, supposedly to reunite children at the facility with their families.

But Hwang says it was a sham designed to bring in more donations.

“I very clearly gave Pastor Lim my home address and phone number,” he recalls.

“My family ran a Chinese business, so I told them where we needed to go, but they took me to the wrong suburb and some random Chinese store.  

“By doing that, they were trying to wipe away my existence.”

Children were forced to work in factories built inside the facility, making fishing rods, stationary and toothpicks, among other things [Courtesy of Brothers Home Welfare Center Incident Countermeasures Committee]

Now 56, Hwang says that over the decades, it has become more and more clear to him why he was held against his will.

“There were no human rights there. [The management] just wanted to keep us alive, as we were bringing in the money [through government subsidies paid per person, and through forced labour],” he says.

“They kept us there to serve their goal.”

He believes those who have profited from their pain and suffering should be punished.

“I urge Pastor Lim, please, I urge you to sincerely apologise to us, the children from Brothers Home.” Hwang pauses.

“Before we die — or at least, before he dies.”

Park Soon-hee [101 East/Al Jazeera]
Park Soon-hee [101 East/Al Jazeera]

Park Soon-hee - 'This trauma and stigma will stay with me until I die'

In tears and with her hands shaking, Park Soon-hee waves a child’s undergarment in the air.

At the bottom, imprinted in black, is an identification number given to her when she was imprisoned at Brothers Home in 1980.

“Look at this… Brothers Home has imprinted its authority on our bones and in our memories,” she cries.

“I had not committed a crime, but why was I given an identification number? This trauma and stigma will stay with me until I die.”

Park was 10 years old and waiting for her older brother at Busan train station, when two police officers offered to help find her family.

Instead, she was shoved onto a truck, and taken to Brothers Home.

Upon arrival, without any explanation, Park’s ponytail was chopped off and she was ordered to change into a blue tracksuit and white canvas shoes.

It marked the beginning of what she describes as six years of a living nightmare.

An ID number on a child's undergarment [101 East/Al Jazeera]

There is one memory in particular that haunts her to this day.

“One winter, a lady with a disability wet her pants,” she recalls, her eyes filling with tears.

“The platoon leader grabbed her by the hair and dragged her to the toilet. The platoon leader then grabbed a floor mop to clean her body, and then poured cold water all over her.”

“When I think about it now… if I had been a bit more mature, I may have been able to protect her. But I couldn’t. I had to survive too, so all I could do was watch. And this still hurts me so much.”

Park Soon-hee, now 51, says the damage inflicted upon the victims by the actions of the government and Director Park and his extended family is lasting.

[Illustration courtesy of Hahn Jong-seon]

“To ensure the wealthy life of that family, tens of thousands of people are now in pain and suffering. Just saying this makes my heart ache,” she cries.

“We were children with a bright future, but they threw that away. They trampled on our future.”

She says Brothers Home stole her childhood and tore her identity apart.

In 1986, she escaped from Brothers Home, but just a few months later, she gave birth to a baby girl. She had fallen pregnant after being brutally raped by the facility’s Commander Leader, one of the inmates who had risen to a position of power and carried out Director Park In-keun’s orders. She was just 17 years old. Her mother forced her to give her baby away for adoption overseas.

Her parents had spent six years searching for her — only for her father to pass away shortly after she came home.

“This is emotional baggage I have to carry for the rest of my life,” she cries.

She says those who have profited from the inmates’ illegal detention and slave labour must be punished.

Lee Chae-shik [101 East/Al Jazeera]
Lee Chae-shik [101 East/Al Jazeera]

Lee Chae-shik - 'It was a world of no freedom'

Lee Chae-shik was 15 years old when he attempted to scale the high concrete walls of Brothers Home in 1983.

By then, he had been incarcerated at the facility for two years.

But shards of glass had been scattered on top of the wall and Lee cut his hands and legs so badly that he was forced to surrender.

“I was dripping blood, I couldn’t walk, so I was dragged across the asphalt concrete to the office,” he recalls.

“I was beaten by the platoon leader, and everyone in the platoon took turns hitting me. I was probably hit about a hundred times.”

The next morning, Lee was hauled into Saemaeum church to face “trial” before Director Park In-keun and thousands of inmates for committing the “biggest sin” at Brothers Home.

“I had to endure all forms of verbal abuse and was beaten really badly. They kicked me with the tip of their shoes,” he recalls.

“I was just scared, I was fearful.”

“Park In-keun had made it a law, and I had gone against his law, by trying to escape. He was a scary person.”

Lee, who had been abused and abandoned by his adoptive parents, was trapped at the Home for six years.

He describes it as a place of “oppression” where inmates were forced into slave labour, had to attend church every day and were required to memorise religious teachings and passages.

Inmates had to attend services at the facility’s Saemaeum Church [Courtesy of Brothers Home Welfare Center Incident Countermeasures Committee]

“Everything was done by force,” he says. “It was a world of no freedom. You just had to do what you were told.”

During his time at the Home, he was chosen to sing in the church choir, and worked closely with those in management, including former Director and Pastor Lim Young-soon.

He claims Brothers Home had a share in the lucrative international adoptions business, sourcing from its baby and infants’ platoon.

“Newborns, three-year-olds, and kids who weren’t yet walking …  one day, all those kids disappeared. That whole platoon.”

Lee says for years he was made to copy drafts of thank you letters to send to donors.

“I wrote, ‘Your gifts have been well received.’ And at the end, I wrote ‘P.S It’s very cold in Korea. It would be nice if you could send us some warm clothes’. Most of the letters were sent to adoptive parents overseas.”

Lee Chae-shik reads one of the letters he wrote to adoptive parents [101 East/Al Jazeera]

He says Director Park and Pastor Lim used religion to justify the horrific abuse at the Home, and to then profit from their pain.

“Pastor Lim is a smart guy. You could say he used his religion to run his business. If there was no religion, no Christianity, who would donate all that money?,” he asks.

“You tell people ‘I’m Christian, I’m Christian’ and all this donated money flooded in.”

More than three decades on, Lee hopes those responsible for his pain come forward.

“If Pastor Lim wants to pass away peacefully… if he really is a man of faith then I hope he comes and finds us and says just one word.”

Yeon Seng-mo [101 East/Al Jazeera]
Yeon Seng-mo [101 East/Al Jazeera]

Yeon Seng-mo - 'The Home will forever be my nightmare'

Yeon Seng-mo was 15 years old and working full-time at a Chinese restaurant in Seoul when a day trip to the beach in the port city of Busan took a sinister turn. Yeon was alone and had cash in his wallet - money he had saved from his earnings - when he was pulled over by police.

He was accused of stealing the money and thrown onto a truck. It was bound for Brothers Home.

“A group of guards holding baseball bats started beating us as soon as we arrived,” he recalls.

“I was so scared. I just curled up into a ball and sat there.”

“They asked, ‘why did you come to Busan?’ I answered, ‘I’m here for a holiday.’”

“But they said, ‘no you’re not, you’re a beggar.’”

Yeon sobs as he shares his story.

It wasn’t only beatings and torture that he endured, but also extreme sexual violence.

“I was subjected to all forms of brutal abuse and was raped daily…” he cries. “Every night I was sexually abused by the group leaders.”

His nightmare lasted for four years.

Yeon says those in positions of power acted with impunity.

“There was no one there you could report to, nor anyone who would listen,” he says. “If you did you would be punished and beaten even more.”

Inmates of Brothers Home were forced to engage in intensive labour at construction sites [Courtesy of Brothers Home Welfare Center Incident Countermeasures Committee]

Yeon witnessed his first murder at a construction site inside the Home. The inmates had been tasked with building a stone wall.

He says an older inmate had sat down to rest after hauling large blocks of stones up a hill.

“The leader on site smashed the man’s head in one strike with a wooden bat. The man died on the spot,” Yeon recalls.

“The leader in charge was initially like us. He was forcibly taken in, but he didn’t want to lose his power and position. He wanted to impress Director Park In-keun, so he used excessive force to control us.”

Yeo Seng-mo says he will never be able to erase what he endured at Brothers Home from his memory [101 East/Al Jazeera]

Now 53, Yeon suffers from severe anxiety and depression.

“The Home will forever be my nightmare, and I will never be able to erase it from my memory,” he says.

“They stole my adolescence. It changed the trajectory of my life.”

With the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reinvestigating the case, Yeon hopes Director Park’s extended family, who profited from the inmates’ slave labour and suffering, returns all the assets they obtained illegally.

[Richard Smith/Al Jazeera]
[Richard Smith/Al Jazeera]

Yang Hyeon-seon - 'How could they do that to someone so young?'

The right to receive an education is something most people take for granted. But for Yang Hyeon-seon, the chance to attend school was taken from her when, at 10 years old, she was snatched from the streets of Busan and taken to Brothers Home.

At just 14, Yang was forced to work as a nanny and cleaner for former Brothers Home Director Joo Jong-chan and his wife Lim In-soon, who lived in the family’s duplex inside the facility.

“Every morning I had to clean, prepare their meals, and take care of their baby all day,” she recalls.

She says she was treated with contempt and abused by Director Joo.

Yang Hyeon-seon was taken to Brothers Home at age 10 [101 East/Al Jazeera]

“If I didn’t clean the house properly, he would call me b**ch, and hit me on the shoulder. I was really scared of him.”

Yang says she was never paid for her work, but what she most resents was being robbed of an education.

“They knew it was wrong, but because they needed someone to look after their baby, they let a child look after their child,” she cries.

“How could they do that to someone so young?”

The closest Yang got to school was observing Director Park In-keun’s youngest daughter, Park Jee-hee.

“She was the same age as me,” she recalls. “I’d watch her get into her uniform, and see her go to school. I remember feeling very envious of her.”

Yang points to a photograph of Joo Jong-chan and his wife [101 East/Al Jazeera]

Yang says that while the other inmates in the platoons struggled to eat proper food, the directors at the family residence lived a comfortable life.

“They lived like rich people, there was nothing that they didn’t have at the residence,” she recalls.

“I was never allowed to eat with them at the same table. I would watch them eat first, and then eat their leftovers.”

She says none of the family members, including the directors’ children, spoke to her.

“They all looked down on me because I was the babysitter,” she says. “They never really said hello, they’d just ignore and pretend not to see me.”

In early 1986, Yang was sent back to the female platoons, as Director Joo and Pastor Lim’s family prepared to immigrate to Australia.

Read more about how survivors of Brothers Home are calling for members of the family who ran it to be extradited from Australia to face questioning.

Yang with her son [101 East/Al Jazeera]

Now in her fifties, Yang suffers from anxiety and depression, and worries about how her mental health is affecting her 10-year-old son.

“I didn’t even graduate from elementary school, so when my son asks me about homework, I can’t even help him,” she cries. “It’s humiliating.”

She says that the South Korean government and all of Director Park’s family are responsible for the pain and suffering inflicted onto the inmates at Brothers Home.

“They all lived there, and saw everything, so they would have known what was happening at the Home was wrong.”

“The whole family was involved in the business, and they profited from it, and have lived a good life.”

Lim Bong-keun [101 East/Al Jazeera]
Lim Bong-keun [101 East/Al Jazeera]

Lim Bong-keun - 'He beat the hell out of me'

Lim Bong-keun had been an inmate at Brothers Home before he was sent to Australia in 1995 on non-work visitor visas and put to work illegally at Director Park In-keun’s driving range in Sydney.

He claims to have worked from dawn until midnight six days a week, fixing golf equipment and manually picking up the thousands of balls from the fields at the end of the day.

Lim says he was given money to purchase a pack of cigarettes a day, and was provided with food rations.

“They bought me 3 kilograms of beef a week and 1 kilogram of pork,” he recalls. “Beef was cheaper than pork.”

Lim Bong-geun at the Sydney Opera House [101 East/Al Jazeera]

When Park flew in from Korea several times a year, Lim Bong-geun says he ruthlessly beat him.

“He used a golf bat to beat the hell out of me,” he says pointing to his injured knee.

“Even if it hurt a lot, I just went back to work fixing their equipment. Otherwise, I would just get beaten up more.”

“If I was in Korea, I would have just run away. But if I left this place, I had no money to go anywhere. Where would I go?”

He says Director Park’s family never offered to step in and help him out with his predicament.

“As soon as they saw Park grab a golf bat and saw what was happening, they just got in the car and ran away.”

This included his youngest daughter Park Jee-hee, who is now the Director of the Milperra Golf Range in Sydney’s southwest, and former Brothers Home Director Joo Jong-chan and Pastor Lim Young-soon.

Isolated in an area with limited access to public transport, Lim says there was no way for him to seek help from outside the golf range.

“I could only leave the place if they took me out, never by myself.”

The former worker claims he was promised wages, but says he only ever received $160.

“I worked there for eight years. He knew I had no one to complain to, nor anyone to ask to pay me properly.”

Watch our story as we track down those in Sydney, Australia, who were allegedly behind the atrocities committed at Brothers Home:

Source: Al Jazeera