April 25, 2016 11:06
Two North Korean laborers escaped from a camp for laborers in Doha, Qatar on March 15 and sought refuge in a police station. The workers told police they could no longer endure Pyongyang's extortion after working in the scorching heat for more than two years but earning nothing.
A construction company in Qatar recently laid off around 20 North Korean laborers, and the two escapees were among them. They are in custody but are at risk of being sent back to North Korea because they are unemployed.
Four days later, around 100 North Korean laborers in Kuwait rose up against the state security agents who keep constant watch on them. The protest was triggered by a foreman telling workers that they would be rewarded if they met their required payment dues for the regime ahead of former leader Kim Jong-il's birthday on April 15.
The workers reportedly shouted out at the foreman and demanded their back pay instead, and some tried to assault him.
According to sources, the state security agents at the site were able to stop the workers from lynching the foreman, but North Korea's Ambassador to Kuwait So Chang-sik was apparently furious at the North Korea construction firm for not being able to contain them.
Kim Young-hwan at the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights said, "It is unprecedented in North Korea to protest in front of state security agents."
The protest took place after state security agents visited Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE in February and March to weed out potential defectors among workers there. They investigated the movements and mobile phone records of workers.
"The protest occurred a week after the investigations ended," a source said. "Pyongyang's pressure has mounted to the degree where workers sent overseas are losing their tempers."
North Korean officials in late February ordered workers overseas to work three more hours every day to raise hard currency for the regime, according to a source. In the Middle East that means laboring in the scorching heat without air conditioning for 10 to 16 hours a day. As fatigue built up, one North Korean laborer in Qatar fell to his death at a high-rise construction site in March, but officials apparently kept this a secret from leader Kim Jong-un.
According to the Unification Ministry, North Korea has dispatched around 60,000 workers abroad, and they raise around US$200-300 million in hard currency annually. They see very little of the money, which is instead used to fund the North's missile and nuclear programs and for lavish gifts to buy the loyalty of senior officials.
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