Russia Says It’s Deporting North Korean Workers to Stop Kim Jong Un’s Nuclear Program

Russia has started the process of expelling North Korean migrant workers from its Far East region in order to comply with a United Nations Security Council resolution passed in December, officials said Tuesday.

The resolution, passed in response to North Korea’s test of a ballistic missile in late November, stated that all countries must send North Korean migrant workers home within 24 months. It aims to cut off funding to the isolationist regime so Pyongyang won’t have the resources to continue the development of its nuclear weapons program. It has been reported that up to 90 percent of North Korean workers’ wages is forcibly sent back to Pyongyang. North Korea has denied the claim.

If Russia follows through with its pledge to deport all North Korean workers, it could deal a significant blow to the country’s cash reserves.

“If Russia is truly enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions and expelling North Korean workers I think that would initially be a positive sign,” Lisa Collins, a Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Newsweek. “If other countries also follow suit and expel North Korean workers this could cumulatively have a large effect on the total amount of money that the North Korean regime earns abroad.”

North Korea earns between $200 million and $500 million dollars a year from overseas laborers, Collins added. 

884602572 North Korean migrants work on a construction site. Russia has started the process of expelling North Korean migrant workers from its Far East region in order to comply with a United Nations Security Council resolution passed in December, officials said Tuesday. Getty Images

But the resolution could simultaneously have a negative impact on Russia’s economy, Russian officials say. Russia is among the world’s leading employers of North Korean workers, and North Korean migrants play an important role in the construction industry in Russia’s Far East. Moscow gave work visas to at least 24,000 North Koreans in 2017, according to the country’s Interior Ministry.

Russia’s ambassador to North Korea, Alexander Matsegora, told reporters Tuesday that there are at least 12,000 North Korean migrant workers in the country’s eastern Primorsky Krai region alone. Russia relies on North Korean labor to fill low-paid, dangerous construction jobs. A State Department report from 2017 said that North Koreans work like slaves in Russia and that some workers are subjected to forced labor.

Matsegora claims the allegations of forced labor are “complete nonsense,” but he conceded that Chinese laborers would be unwilling to take on the construction jobs because the pay is too low.

Last month, the head of Russia’s Far East region called on Moscow to allow around 10,000 North Koreans to remain in the country despite the sanctions. But Matsegora stressed that all North Korean workers will be expelled in compliance with the Security Council resolution, despite what he characterized as a “blow” to the Russian economy.

Still, some say there are reasons to doubt that Russia will follow through on its commitment.

“North Korea has sent laborers to work in logging camps in Siberia and the Russian Far East for decades, and in more recent years has also sent a growing number of laborers to work in sectors such as construction,” Daniel Wertz, a representative of the National Committee of North Korea, told Newsweek.

“There is reason to be skeptical about the depth of Russia’s commitment to enforcing these sanctions,” he added. “Even if Moscow formally prohibits the employment of North Korean laborers, Russian authorities might ultimately turn a blind eye to the practice.”