By Hannah Stevens @Hannahshewans

MEET the couple who are defying 60 years of hatred between North and South Korea to find love on the other side

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Joseph - previously known as Chui - converted to Christianity soon after seeking asylum in South Korea

Photographer Eric Lafforgue travelled to South Korea to document their extraordinary love story.

North Korean defector Joseph - formerly called Chui - fled to China in 1999 and later sought asylum in South Korea in 2003.

The defector initially fled to China but sought asylum in South Korea due to the threat of being sent back

After settling in Seoul, converting to Christianity and opening a chain of cafés run by North Koreans, Joseph found love in an unexpected place - with a South Korean girl.

Joseph said: “When I met Juyeon’s gaze in the corridors of the bank, I thought God put her in my way.

Joseph underwent an intense debriefing at the Hanawon resettlement centre before he could enter South Korea

“I never imagined I might interest a South Korean girl. It was already difficult with the North Korean girls!”

After losing his father growing up in a secluded North Korean village, Joseph and Juyeon quickly bonded over the shared loss of their fathers.

But even in a comparatively liberal South, North Korean men marrying South Korean women is almost unheard of.

At the Hanawon resettlement centre Joseph had to write down a lifetime of memories of North Korea
Joseph was given housing in the Yangcheong apartments in Seoul

Eric said: “It is acceptable for South Korean men to marry North Korean women in an emotional distress - dating agencies abound in this niche - but a South Korean girl who flirts with a North Korean defector? That’s a whole other story in this very conservative society.”

Juyeon’s friends even tried to convince her to ditch Joseph and find a South Korean man to marry instead, but she never faltered.

She said: “They said, ‘There are so many interesting South Korean men, why date a North Korean one?' I answered that I loved him, I wanted to build a family and have three children with him. I did not give up.”

In his first apartment, Joseph lived with an American roommate who taught him English

To celebrate their union the couple decided to have their engagement photos taken at Imjingak Peace Park on the border between the two Koreas.

Accompanied by Eric, the couple set off for their photoshoot and Juyeon’s first sighting of North Korea.

The duo paused to add a coloured ribbon to the thousands hanging on the barbed wires - a small sign of hope for peace and reunification amid continuing tensions.

Confronted by his old home, Joseph lets loose on his frustrations about the constant misunderstanding of North Koreans - including defectors and residents.

North Koreans do not escape all judgement in South Korea and many face prejudice from their new countryfolk

He said: “Don’t forget that only one percent of the population do politics in North Korea.

“Ninety-nine percent lead normal lives, work, have a family, a proper culture.

“North Korea isn’t just a nuclear threat and a political leader, the country hosts 25 million human beings!”

But the park also brings up some happier memories, he remembers his first encounter with foreign culture when a train full of recycling waste stopped in his village and he salvaged a half-destroyed audio tape.

Joseph added: “I patiently glued the strips, then I feverishly introduced the tape in the player.

“Some heavy metal music came out! I was horrified by the howling foreign music and threw the tape immediately in the fire.”

There is a significant language gap between North and South Korea - 3000 words differ between dialects

After leaving North Korea with only two family pictures, Joseph decided to record a video to symbolically present his bride to his mother.

He said: “I know she will see the video when the two Koreas are reunified.

“She will never leave the North, as my father, who died of cirrhosis, is buried in her village.”

A firm believer in a united Korea, Joseph is focussing his energy on launching projects to give North Korean defectors a stable life in South Korea.

After missing years of education while escaping, defectors often struggle to catch up in South Korea's education system

Due to the vast differences in education standards, many North Koreans - who were often agricultural workers - find it hard to find sustainable employment.

Joseph has already begun to change that by opening two cafes which focus on employing North Koreans and now he is hoping to buy farmlands for North Koreans.

He said: “North Koreans are treated like slaves in their country, so when they come in the South, I would like them to not become slaves of capitalism, with low-wage jobs or low status.”