A group of female North Korean workers has been forcefully repatriated from China after it was learned that they had been asked to work as prostitutes on the sly by their overseer while officially hired at a food factory, according to a local source.
The women, believed to number about half a dozen, were among North Korean workers sent across the border to gain precious foreign exchange revenue and had been placed under strict living conditions, including being barred from traveling outside their lodging alone, a source from China’s Liaoning province bordering North Korea told RFA’s Korean Service.
However, the women, who worked at a food production factory in Liaoning’s Donggang city, had been leaving their compound at night to engage in illegal activities—including prostitution—at the behest of their handler, infuriating the local community, the source said.
“It was exposed that some of the North Korean female workers who work at a food factory located in Donggang went outside at night after work and engaged in prostitution,” he said.
“As a result, some of the workers and their North Korean handler were deported by the Chinese public security personnel.”
The source said that an executive of the Chinese company that owns the food factory ran a prostitution ring and had instructed the North Korean handler to select women from his group and let them leave at night to serve as sex workers.
“The company’s executive, the North Korean handler and the female workers were to share in the profits that the women received for sex,” he said.
“But the female workers never received their share of the money, so they complained and caused a disturbance, and these facts came out. As a result, the Chinese public security officials investigated the matter, found the responsible people and deported them.”
Another source from China told RFA that North Korean women working in the country are frequently forced into prostitution.
“It simply hasn’t come out in the past, but there have been many similar situations,” he said, adding that he blamed the North Korean handler’s “lack of morality” for the recent deportation of the female food factory workers.
Vulnerable to trafficking
There are no official figures on the total number of North Koreans working in China, but in January, China’s National Tourism Administration reported that 93,300 North Koreans were granted work visas to enter the country in 2013, an increase of 17 percent from the previous year.
A Korean peddler of Chinese ethnicity surnamed Ju said that while the opportunity to earn foreign currency as a worker in China had been highly sought after in the past, people were growing increasingly wary.
“In the past, it was very hard to be hired as a worker at a restaurant in China where one can earn foreign currency, but it’s no longer popular [to try],” he said.
“Many parents know that female workers are driven to illegal acts while working abroad, including prostitution.”
Multiple sources told RFA that North Korean workers and waitresses who are sent to China find it hard to refuse unreasonable requests from corrupt handlers, because they fear repatriation.
There are also several thousand North Korean women who flee their country to China to avoid blatant human rights abuses.
According to the U.S. State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons report, China is a destination for women and girls, “largely from neighboring countries,” who are sometimes subjected to forced marriage and forced prostitution upon arrival.
“The government continued to treat North Koreans found in China as illegal economic migrants, despite credible independent reporting that many North Korean female refugees in China are trafficking victims,” the report said.
“The government detained and deported such refugees to North Korea, where they may face severe punishment, even death, including in North Korean forced labor camps.”
The Chinese government did not provide North Korean trafficking victims with legal alternatives to repatriation, while Chinese authorities sometimes prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees and trafficking victims.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is barred from access to North Koreans in northeast China, leaving them vulnerable to human traffickers, the report said.
Reported by Joon Ho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jina Lee. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.