Overseas North Koreans work like slaves

- Agencies, PYONGYANG
Overseas North Koreans work like slaves

Jun 11, 2014-

The number of North Korean laborers overseas stood at about 46,000. New leader Kim Jong-un apparently gave orders to send as many workers as possible abroad to earn valuta, even at the risk of some defections.

The move comes amid tighter international sanctions and an end to cash flow from South Korea after the shutdown of package tours to Mt. Kumgang and commercial trade.

The beginning of North Korea's dispatched its workers to foreign countries is the dispatch of wood cutters to former Soviet Union after the Korean War. After then, the dispatch of North Korea workers has raged through events like the aid construction in African countries since mid 1970s, dispatch of construction in Russia after the breakup of socialism, and expansion to Middle East after the Gulf War in 1991.

The North Korean government sent laborers to work abroad under bilateral contracts with foreign governments, including in Russia, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, East and Southeast Asia, especially Mongolia, and the Middle East. Credible reports showed many North Korean workers sent abroad under these contracts were subjected to forced labor, with their movement and communications constantly under surveillance and restricted by North Korean government “minders.”

Regarding the reason why North Korean workers cannot decide to defect, even though they see the free world. Some defectors explained, "They know well that their destiny will be troubled once they are pessimistic about their circumstance or try to find the other world precisely. Therefore, they simply accept the situation as fate and live with it."

North Korean sends loggers to the Siberian region of Russia, farmers to agricultural field, workers to overseas restaurants, medical and military personnel, and athletes, abroad.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 North Korean workers are estimated to be employed in logging camps in Russia’s Far East, where they reportedly have only two days of rest per year and face punishments if they fail to meet production targets. Wages of some North Korean workers employed in Russia reportedly were withheld until the laborers returned home.

Kim Tae San, who used to be the president of a North Korean/Czech Republic joint company, stated that, "North Korean workers, who are dispatched to foreign countries, are nothing but Kim's slaves who are being squeezed.

In February 2013, five North Korean workers at a Russian construction site died because they could not escape the carbon monoxide-filled room where they were being confined; the door was locked from outside. There were also credible reports that these workers faced threats of government reprisals against them or their relatives in North Korea if they attempted to escape or complain to outside parties.

The dollars earned by North Korean overseas workers are sent to Kim Jong-un through dispatched overseas entities in the name of 'revolution funds,’ 'loyalty foreign currency’, and 'party funds'.

Up to 90% of Pay Extorted

The monthly pay for North Korean expat workers is between US$300 and $1,000, depending which country they work in and what kind of job they do. But some 70 to 90 percent of their pay goes straight into the regime's coffers via an agency known as Room 39, which manages Kim's slush funds. The deductions are billed as loyalty funds, party membership fees, tax, insurance premiums, and board and lodging fees.

Each security agents supervising a group of expat workers must extort and remit $10,000 to $100,000 to Pyongyang, which means that the workers are left with only $100 to $130 a month.


According to defectors, many North Korean laborers scramble for the chance to go abroad, despite the risk of extortion from security agents. The competition is fierce. Many give officials $20 to $30 as a bribe for work placements abroad, while others bribe party officials to pass family background checks for ideological soundness. To pass physical exams, some people then pay officials $10 to $100 for any disease they want kept quiet.

New North Korean leader Kim Jong-un plans to send more North Koreans abroad to earn money for the cash-strapped regime. Sanctions by the international community have bled North Korea. But that has not deterred the country's elite from splurging. The capital Pyongyang is reportedly shining with new Mercedes and BMWs.

The import of luxury items like flat-screen televisions, digital cameras and other electronic equipment have also shown a steep rise.

South Korea News Paper Chosunilbo quoted a diplomatic source as saying: "Kim Jong-un must be desperate for money because he has to buy gifts and throw parties to ensure the loyalty of his inner circle. North Korea has no other choice but to increase the number of workers overseas."

International sanctions have only worsened the country's woes. Arms exports which used to bring in a lot of money have also stopped. The North earlier used to export ballistic missile related equipment and materials to countries like Middle East, South Asia and North Africa which include Syria, Iran and Pakistan. This has also been hit in the recent times due to the developments

Published: 11-06-2014 15:17

User's Feedback

Click here for your comments

Comment via Facebook

Don't have facebook account? Use this form to comment