North’s overseas workers sufferFollowing the defection of a group of North Koreans working at a state-run restaurant in China, a spotlight has been aimed at the North’s workers overseas and violations of their human rights.
Although North Korean workers can work more than 16 hours a day, most of their wages - 80 to 90 percent - are paid to the nation’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea as evidence of their loyalty, according to testimonies of North Korean defectors who used to work overseas.
Most workers dispatched overseas are engaged in the so-called 3D industries - dirty, difficult and demanding - and are vulnerable to industrial accidents.
A white paper released by the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification detailed human rights violations involving North Korean workers living overseas after investigating cases in China, Russia, Qatar, Kuwait, Libya and the United Arab Emirates between 2013 and 2015.
“Some people die on the job,” said a North Korean defector who was responsible for sending people abroad for labor. “In one case, colleagues of the dead person collected money to send the body to the family in North Korea.”
“One of my colleagues was hit by a crane and severely injured but had to go back to North Korea without any compensation,” said a North Korea defector who was dispatched to Kuwait in 2007.
There are a growing number of cases of workers escaping from work sites.
Last month, it was reported that two North Korean workers at a construction site in Doha, Qatar, fled to a local police station. The two told police they could no longer endure Pyongyang’s extortion, saying they had earned nothing despite working in the scorching heat for more than two years.
Yoon Yeo-sang, chief of the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, said that runaways from work sites in Russia are common. Russia is the country to which North Korea has sent the largest number of its workers.
If a worker is caught by a North Korean intelligence agent fleeing a work site, he or she is repatriated after interrogation. The punishment is worse if it’s found the worker tried to defect to South Korea.
Sources claim North Korea raises at least $250 million annually from overseas workers, money that is believed to be used for the development for nuclear weapons and missiles.
BY KIM HYOUNG-GU [firstname.lastname@example.org]