Kwon Chol Nam fled North Korea for China by wading across a river border at night and crawling under a barbed wire fence.
He made a long, perilous journey across China, and trekked through the jungles of Laos to get to Thailand, where he was allowed to fly to South Korea to start a new life.
That was three years ago. But after so much danger, risk and upheaval he now wants to go back.
South Korea is not what he expected and he desperately misses his family.
"North Korea is my home. It's where my son lives and my parents died," he said.
"There's no hope living here. I've experienced so much harassment and I'm treated like a second-class citizen."
Over the last couple of decades thousands of North Koreans have risked life and limb and fled the repression of their homeland to seek refuge in South Korea.
But now in an unexpected turnaround, a growing number want to return home, saying South Korea is not the land of freedom and prosperity that was promised.
Mr Kwon lives in poverty and isolation in a small room in an outer suburb of Seoul, relying on charity to pay the rent.
He is unemployed and claims when he did work as a labourer he was paid much less than fellow workers, or not at all.
He said he suffers from the stigma of coming from the North, saying most South Koreans see him as backward or stupid.
"I am lonely and most of the defectors think like this," he said.
"South Korean people don't want to socialise with us, they don't treat us like human beings.
"Even though North Korea is poorer, I felt more free there. Neighbours and people help each other and depend on each other.
"Life is simpler there and here they are just slaves to money."
Defectors struggle in the South
Mr Kwon has tried to go back illegally via China, but just as he was about to leave South Korean authorities arrested him and he spent several months in jail.
Defectors immediately become South Koreans, and as citizens it is against the law to have any contact or visit the North.
But he is now leading a campaign to get the South Korean Government to change laws to allow defectors to go home.
It is believed there are about 80 defectors who are actively seeking to return.
Mr Kwon has spent the last several months protesting and lobbying the United Nations and the South Korean parliament.
"I have declared myself as a citizen of North Korea," he said.
"Even though my body is here my mind is living in my home."
North Korean defectors were once celebrated in the South and given a new home and a generous living allowance, but not anymore.
There are about 25,000 living in South Korea and they struggle to fit into the fast-paced, hyper-competitive capitalist South.
Studies estimate more than half suffer discrimination and depression and unemployment among them is six times higher than the South Korean average.
It is estimated 25 per cent of all defectors have seriously considered returning home.
Even defectors like Kim Hyung Doek — who have been in South Korea for 20 years and have forged a successful career, made money and raised a family — want to go back.
"I have strong feelings that I really want to go back and live with my family because that's where I was born and grew up," he said.
"It's difficult to adapt in the South but I did. I suffered so much discrimination.
"There's a gap of about 40 years between the North and the South."
A few years ago Mr Kim travelled to the North Korean embassy in China and requested a visitor's visa, but it was firmly rejected.
He just hopes that relations between the North and South will improve so one day he can return to see his family.
Hundreds of defectors unaccounted for
It is a hard road back for North Korean defectors.
They live in limbo, ostracised in the South but also not welcome back in their homeland, where they are used as propaganda and punished.
It is impossible to know how many defectors have returned to the North.
The South Korea Unification Ministry says 13, but other evidence suggests the figure is much higher.
Eight hundred defectors known to have arrived in South Korea are unaccounted for.
They are signs the regime in the North has mounted a campaign under Kim Jong-un to woo them back, reportedly with offers of cash, a job and a home.
Once there, they are put on North Korean state media claiming they were "abducted" and that South Korea is "a living hell".
Regardless, Mr Kwon says his desire to go home is stronger than ever.
"Of course I'll get punished but I am prepared to swallow it," he said.
"In the DPRK [North Korea] it's one man and one rule and our great leader has said he will forgive people who have defected."