Poland rejecting North’s workers

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Poland rejecting North’s workers

Poland will stop issuing work visas for North Koreans this year, blocking a source of hard currency for the Pyongyang regime, a spokesman from Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed Tuesday.

Spokesman Cho June-hyuck told reporters that Poland decided “early this year” not to issue any new visas for North Korean workers, and that companies that already hired them before the decision have been forced to not renew their employment contracts.

It is unclear whether the decision came before or after Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and a long-range missile launch on Feb. 7, which were followed by the strongest-ever United Nations sanctions against North Korea in March.

Cho said “numerous countries” in Africa, Central Asia and Europe have been investigating “unlawful actions” of North Korean laborers, including staying in the countries illegally.

Without giving much detail, the spokesman mentioned that the international society has been “increasingly concerned” about the infringement of human rights on North Korea’s overseas workers and the fact that they were channeling money back to their home country, hinting that Poland’s decision was based on those kind of anxieties.

While Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to make any public statement on the issue, Rafal Sobczak, director of the ministry’s press office, was recently quoted on the official website saying the ministry “takes the issue of respecting the rights of North Koreans working in Poland very seriously.”

He added that the foreign workers “are inspected and monitored by relevant government institutions.”

Sobczak’s message was in response to an April 12 news article in Poland that reported that Polish diplomats were using personal connections to help Polish entrepreneurs find workers from North Korean companies.

Early Tuesday morning, the Seoul bureau of broadcaster Voice of America (VOA) reported in Korean that Poland’s Foreign Affairs Ministry exclusively told it that it “had not issued a single work visa for a North Korean laborer after North Korea’s nuclear test and missile test.”

Currently, there are 482 North Koreans in Poland with work visas, the VOA quoted the Polish ministry’s press office as saying. That number, according to the report, accounts for 0.7 percent of all work visas in Poland.

While VOA’s report did not explicitly explain why Poland decided to stop accepting North Korean workers, it mentioned that the government had been thoroughly monitoring whether their work conditions corresponded with Polish labor laws.

According to the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, a civic group based in Seoul, around 50,000 to 60,000 North Korean workers have been forced to work abroad, including in Poland and Malta.

Some have poor working conditions, and almost all their incomes are repatriated to the Communist regime.

The group claims that the countries taking in the workers often have close ties with Pyongyang.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, CHA SE-HYEON [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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