Rights Monitor Group Tracking 60,000 North Korean Workers in Northeastern China

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korea-workers.jpg North Korean workers wait for their flight at the airport of Vladivostok, Dec. 22, 2019.

As the Dec. 22 deadline for U.N. member states including Russia and China to send home all North Korean workers toiling to send foreign currency to the Pyongyang regime passed, a South Korean rights group said it is monitoring the repatriation efforts in the region.

The group, Data Base for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB), estimates that there are 60,000 workers dispatched to the three northeastern Chinese provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning to work in restaurants, factories, farms and the IT industry.

NKDB told RFA’s Korean Service Monday it has conducted five surveys in China since 2015 and has identified the names and locations of more than 100 companies where North Korean workers work, and came up with 60,000 for the number of laborers in the three Chinese provinces nearest the shared border.

Initial reports over the weekend in South Korean media did not indicate a surge in North Koreans heading back home.

Some reports, including an RFA report last week, found large numbers of North Koreans in China appeared to be ignoring the U.N.-mandated deadline Sunday, intended to deprive Pyongyang of foreign cash and resources that could be used to expand its banned nuclear and missile programs.

A Security Council resolution passed on Dec. 22, 2017, gave United Nations member-states two years to send DPRK citizens home and it banned North Korean workers from receiving new work visas from other countries.

In the resolution, the council acknowledged that “revenue generated from DPRK workers overseas, among others, contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs,” which are under U.N. sanctions.

The government of Kim Jong Un takes most of the earnings of workers it sends abroad to earn hard currency.

While in China, more North Koreans appeared to be arriving, in Russia some workers told RFA they were finding loopholes to keep working there—joining worker training programs or even going into Russia on group tour visas and ten finding jobs.

Officials in several Southeast Asian countries on Friday told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, that they have few North Koreans living within their boundaries, as most of the relatively small pool that was once there had already left.

The Korean International Trade Association, a private economic organization, estimated the number of North Korean workers in China at 70,000 to 80,000 in August. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry put the number of North Korean workers overseas at 70,000-100,000 as of the end of 2017.

Research institutes in Seoul, including the Korea Institute for National Unification and Sejong Institute, estimate North Korea’s overseas workers to be around 100,000, 80 percent of which are from neighboring China and Russia, with 50,000 and 30,000, respectively.

Reported by Jae Duk Seo for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Paul Eckert.


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