150,000 N.Koreans Sent to Slave Labor Abroad

      November 13, 2014 09:42

      The international media have put the spotlight on thousands of North Koreans sent to labor on building sites abroad in conditions of virtual slavery. Extensive reports in the Guardian and the Financial Times have found that the North Korean regime pockets practically all the money they earn racing against time to build the World Cup facilities in Qatar and elsewhere.

      They are involved in construction of the 86,000-seat main stadium for the 2022 World Cup, a top-class hotel complex and two golf courses in Lusail, a new planned city 20 km north of the Qatari capital of Doha.

      Most of their fellow workers from Vietnam, India and Nepal get off at dusk, but the North Koreans often labor on in the glare of fluorescent lamps until late at night.

      Some 2,800 North Korean workers in Qatar start at 6 a.m. and continue till after midnight, except for a break for food. But they have to give 90 percent of their salary to the regime. A North Korean official admitted to the Guardian that the workers are not paid directly but claimed the money is paid "to their families."

      In reality, the Qatari government stands accused of being driven by North Korea's "state-sponsored trafficking for forced labor."

      A North Korean works on a construction site in Qatar. /Courtesy of the Guardian

      The dailies said a North Korean worker typically earns 3,000 rials including overtime pay, but they receive a mere 10 to 15 percent of their salary, with the rest lining the pockets of North Korean leaders.

      With no money in hand, the North Koreans stay in their quarters on holidays and need to borrow money from project managers "if they need small things like cigarettes," the Guardian reported.

      But they cannot even conceive of escaping because their families are in effect held hostage back in the North.

      The Guardian estimates that there are up to 65,000 North Koreans working in around 40 countries. But one activist group here estimates that the number is nearer 150,000, with over 90,000 in China alone.

      Nevertheless, many North Koreans want to work overseas because they are at least fed one or two decent meals a day. Their number is believed to have doubled or tripled since Kim Jon-un took power in the North in 2012.

      Some 20,000 toil as loggers and construction workers in Russia and around 7,000 others on various construction sites in Africa, including Namibia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Libya.

      Until the early 1990s they were paid their salary directly. But amid global sanctions and growing economic troubles for the regime, their salaries are instead deposited in accounts controlled by the North Korean regime.

      The abuses have received widespread attention from European governments, parliaments and the press in recent days. Last month, the EU and Japan submitted a draft resolution on the North's human rights issues to the UN General Assembly. It calls for punishing those responsible for the violation of human rights there.

      Several countries have invited North Korean defectors to testify on the human rights situation in the North. The British Parliament invited Park Yeon-mi (21), a college student who fled the North, to give her testimony on Oct. 29. Park has also testified at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway recently.

      NK Watch, a defectors' rights organization, will give a lecture in Madrid at the invitation of El Ser Creativo, a Spanish NGO, on Friday. It will also give a press conference and hold a photo exhibition next Monday and Tuesday in Geneva in collaboration with UN Watch, a Swiss human rights organization.

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