North Korean worker in Laos dies after elevator repair accident

Sanctions imposed in 2017 are supposed to block North Koreans from working outside the country.
By Sooyoung Park and Jung Min Noh for RFA Korean and Phouvong for RFA Lao
2022.12.02
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North Korean worker in Laos dies after elevator repair accident The Dansavanh Hotel in downtown Vientiane, Laos.
Dansavanh Hotel

A North Korean worker in Laos has died after falling while servicing an elevator at the Dansavanh Hotel in downtown Vientiane, sources in the Lao capital told Radio Free Asia.

The accident happened at the hotel’s casino on Nov. 14. The man was unconscious when rescue workers arrived and transported him to a hospital in Vientiane province’s Thoulakhom district where he died shortly after, the sources said. 

“He was unconscious but was still breathing,” an official from the hospital, who declined to be named, told RFA’s Lao Service Thursday. “CPR was performed immediately, but he died.”

“The nationality of the dead worker is North Korean,” the official confirmed several times.

RFA learned of the accident on Nov. 22 from a local source who requested anonymity for personal safety. That source said fewer than five workers were at the scene.

The hotel confirmed the accident to RFA via text message on Nov. 23, saying it happened while the worker was fixing the elevator.

Earning money for the state

North Korea dispatches thousands of workers to countries like China and Russia to earn foreign currency for the state, which takes the lion’s share of their salaries in the form of “loyalty payments.” What they are left with is usually several times more than they could expect to earn in the same industry in their homeland.

But since 2017 U.N. nuclear and missile sanctions made it illegal for Pyongyang to send workers abroad and all North Korean workers were supposed to return home by the end of 2019.

In the case of Laos, North Korea has been able to get between 100 and 200 workers into the country on visas that designate them as official representatives of North Korea, sources told RFA’s Korean Service. They work in restaurants, construction and in information technology. 

Companies in Laos make direct requests to the North Korean Embassy when they need North Korean workers, according to the source.

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee and Phouvong. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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