How North Korea Exploits Its Workers In The Middle East

Gulf countries such as Kuwait and Qatar are notorious for labor exploitation. But it’s all the worse for workers hailing from the hermit kingdom.

North Korean laborers

North Korean laborers do not just face harsh working conditions for meager wages in their country. Their exploitation occurs overseas just as well.

Recently, construction workers from the hermit kingdom working in Kuwait reportedly went on a strike after their North Korean employer announced their salaries would be paid with checks instead of cash.

The demonstration didn’t yield any results, as the protesting employees were summoned back to North Korea.

"As people began to disobey orders and desert their workplaces, North Korean authorities belatedly took steps to tackle the issue," Radio Free Asia reported. "On May 17, they quickly summoned dozens of North Korean workers who had caused problems by resuming Air Koryo flights between Pyongyang and Kuwait, which had been halted on Feb. 23."

A similar protest was held in March in Qatar. Around 100 workers became agitated after a foreman told them to work hard to meet their required payment dues to send back to the regime ahead of former leader Kim Jong-il's birthday on April 15. 

In a separate incident, two North Koreans escaped from a labor camp in Doha on March 15, seeking refuge in a local police station where they complained about “Pyongyang's extortion” after working in unbearable high temperatures for two years and with no pay. 

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Although the maltreatment of expat labor force in Gulf countries is no secret, it’s particularly tough for North Koreans who are, more often than not, forcibly sent abroad to toil in factories to acquire foreign currency for Kim Jong-un’s regime.

Last October, Marzuki Darusman, the special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, stated in a report the secretive states uses its workers as “a new source of income,” in the wake of stricter financial Western sanctions. 

He said around 50,000 North Korean workers are working mainly in the mining, logging, textile and construction industries in several foreign countries, primarily Russia and China, as well as Poland, Mongolia, Algeria, Angola, Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar and Nigeria.

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