Mon, Dec 04, 2017 - Page 4 News List

N Koreans face Mongolia exit as UN sanctions bite

AFP, Ulan Bator

North Koreans have toiled and slept at construction sites in Mongolia, they have operated sewing machines and their acupuncture skills are highly prized in one of the few democracies employing them.

However, the nearly 1,200 North Koreans living in the country wedged between Russia and China must pack their bags as Mongolia enforces tough UN sanctions severely curbing trade with Pyongyang.

The UN in September estimated that 100,000 North Koreans work abroad and send about US$500 million in wages back to the authoritarian regime each year.

However, the UN Security Council ordered nations to stop providing guest worker permits to North Koreans after Pyongyang detonated its most powerful nuclear bomb.

The US is now pushing for more sanctions after the regime tested another intercontinental ballistic missile late last month.

North Koreans have to leave Mongolia by the end of the year as their one-year work authorizations will not be renewed, the Mongolian Ministry of Labor said.

“Private entities will not be able to offer new contracts due to the UN resolution. Mongolia has been following every part of the resolution,” Mongolian Minister of Foreign Affairs official Shijeekhuugiin Odonbaatar told reporters.

The number of North Koreans working in Mongolia has dropped every year since peaking at 2,123 in 2013.

There were 1,190 North Koreans employed in the vast country of 3 million people as of last month — often under murky work and living conditions.

Most of the North Koreans who work abroad are in China and Russia, but they have also been found elsewhere in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

Across the world, they work 12-hour to 16-hour days, with only one or two days off per month. The North Korean government takes between 70 and 90 percent of their monthly wages, which range from US$300 to US$1,000, according to the US Department of State.

However, their days abroad are numbered.

About 150 North Koreans have left Angola. In Qatar, the contracts of about 650 construction workers are to expire next year. Poland, where as many as 500 have worked, would not renew work permits.

The head of a Russian parliamentary delegation visiting North Korea last week said “everything” must be done to allow those who have already received work permits to finish their jobs in Russia, where an expert has estimated that about 30,000 live.

In Mongolia, construction companies have hired North Koreans for their reputation for working long hours without complaint.

They live in toolsheds of construction sites or in the basements of apartment projects. They never take time off or even leave the construction sites, as they are not allowed to wander in the city on their own.

In September, a 27-year-old North Korean worker died after falling from an apartment in a residential complex under construction in Ulan Bator.

At the fenced-off site, journalists saw three toolsheds with a clothes line strung between them.

The workers angrily refused to talk to the reporters and tried to grab their cameras.

A South Korean Christian advocate who has sought to help North Koreans said he wished that Mongolians would do more for those who work in poor conditions.

“In winter, most of them live in the basement of the building that they are building. There is no heating in that unfinished building,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Unfortunately, it is too risky for South Koreans to help those workers directly. I used to help some of construction workers in the past through one man, but one day, that man just disappeared. I never saw him again.”

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