North Korea to Replace 10,000 Workers Dispatched to China

Many of the workers became stranded at the end of their China stint due to coronavirus and have not seen their families in years.

North Korea to Replace 10,000 Workers Dispatched to China

North Korea is planning to repatriate 10,000 workers dispatched to earn foreign currency in China but were stranded by the coronavirus pandemic, replacing them with younger recruits, sources in China told RFA.

One of North Korea's chief foreign currency sources is to dispatch workers overseas, then collect the lion’s share of their salaries.

North Korean labor exports were supposed to have stopped when United Nations sanctions froze the issuance of work visas and mandated the repatriation of North Korean nationals working abroad by the end of 2019.

The sanctions are aimed at depriving Pyongyang of cash to fund its prohibited nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Though many North Koreans returned home prior to the deadline, some were allowed to remain until their three-year visas were to expire in early 2020.

But in January 2020, Pyongyang and Beijing closed the Sino-Korean border to stop the spread of coronavirus, making a return home impossible.

“The North Korean workers here in Dandong are expected to be replaced soon. An acquaintance of mine who works for a company that employs North Koreans confirmed that some of the workers are cycling out,” a Chinese citizen of Korean descent, from the Chinese border city that lies across the Yalu River from North Korea’s Sinuiju, told RFA’s Korean Service June 20.

“The North Korean authorities will select about 10,000 workers from among those who have been waiting to go home for a long time but were stranded here due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

According to the source, most of the workers who will be replaced are married women in their 40s who have not seen their families in North Korea since they left before the pandemic. Others who are being swapped out include workers of retirement age.

“The workers on the withdrawal list were scheduled to return home after their three-year visa expired at the end of 2019. But due to the sudden onset of the pandemic, they have been stuck in China and unable to find suitable employment. They have been working in whatever industry, doing whatever job they could find,” the source said.

“Meanwhile, the companies that hire North Koreans wanted to replace these workers due to various problems, but replacement was held up when the border closed. But earlier this month the North Korean embassy in Beijing ordered HR companies to come up with a list of 10,000 workers to send back,” said the source.

Some of these workers arrived in China as early as 2016, so they have been away from their families for more than five years, according to the source. Others reached retirement age while they were stranded in China.

“They were actually paid only 300 yuan (U.S. $46) of the 2000 yuan ($308) monthly wage paid out by the Chinese companies under contract. But even this money was not given to them and only recorded in the books of the North Korean HR company. The HR company promised to pay the entirety of their owed balance when they return home, but we’ll have to wait and see if that happens,” said the source.

A lump sum payment for three years of work should amount to 10,800 yuan ($1,666) that the HR companies would owe each worker, or about 108 million yuan ($16.6 million).

Though the workers are only getting 20 percent of what they earned, with the rest going to the government, they are still receiving about 70  times the North Korean monthly government salary, which according to the South Korea-based Korea Joongang Daily newspaper amounted to about 4,000 won ($0.66) in 2018.

Another source, also from Dandong, confirmed to RFA June 21 that he heard news that North Korea would send 10,000 younger workers to replace the returning ones.

“The North Korean workers on the withdrawal list are expected to return home through Dandong Customs soon,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

“The workers welcome the return measures. Because of the closed border, many have been living here without knowing how their families are doing back in North Korea,” the second source said.

How they will return home—whether by train, bus or on foot—is unknown, according to the second source.

“Even in the midst of the international sanctions on North Korea, the 10,000 among the many tens of thousands of North Korean workers who are still earning foreign currency in the Dandong area will be replaced,” the second source said.

“Their entry into North Korea will be of great interest.”

The 10,000 workers who will return to North Korea have already been vaccinated against COVID-19 and will be authorized for return only after testing negative for the virus, the second source said.

About 30,000 North Korean workers in Dandong are employed in industries including textiles, electronics, accessories, and quarantine products manufacturing, as well as seafood processing and agriculture.

Though sanctions prohibit North Korea from sending workers overseas and preclude countries from issuing work visas to North Koreans, Pyongyang has been known to dispatch workers to China and Russia on short-term student or visitor visas to get around sanctions.

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Cambodian Political Prisoners’ Wives Fear for Husbands’ Health

Prison food lacks nutrition, and authorities should allow prisoners' families to visit, one rights group says.

Cambodian Political Prisoners’ Wives Fear for Husbands’ Health

The wives of two political prisoners held in Cambodian jails are fearing for their husbands’ health after seeing them in failing health during recent visits, the women said, blaming prison authorities for failing to provide the men with adequate food.

Tek Sok Lorn, the wife of jailed opposition activist Prov Chantheun, said she was shocked at her husband’s appearance when she saw him through a glass partition at the Mort Khmung prison in Tbong Khmum province.

Her husband was thin, pale, and exhausted, and looked sadly at her through hollow eyes, Tek Sok Lorn told RFA on Wednesday.

“When I walked into the prison facility to visit him, I saw his tears,” she said.

“As his wife I am really concerned about his health, since he isn’t getting any sunlight. I am requesting the court to please render justice for us, and I’m asking the judge to be loyal to the Khmer nation and know what is right and what is wrong,” she said.

Nguon Phalla, the wife another Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) activist, Um Yet, said she had previously been able to bring him food every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and that he had been in good health during the last four months.

But now her husband has lost weight, has high blood pressure, and suffers from stomach pains possibly caused by malnutrition, she said.

“[The court] should release him,” Nguon Phalla said, adding, “He appears to have lost about 10 kilos of weight after being held for only six months, and I’m concerned that if he’s left like this he may lose even more, and that his life may be at risk.”

“I’m asking the court to release him and drop all the charges against him,” she added.

Verdicts to be announced

On June 30, the Tbong Khmum provincial court will announce verdicts in the cases of 14 political and land-rights activists. Eight of these, including six CNRP members and two land-rights activists, are now being held in the provincial prison, sources said.

Arrested between late 2020 and January 2021, they face charges of plotting, conspiracy to topple the government, and inciting social chaos for having worn T-shirts bearing political slogans and for gathering in protest last year in front of the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh.

The CNRP was banned and disbanded, and its leader Kem Sokha arrested, in late 2017 as part of a wider crackdown on civil society by longtime ruler Hun Sen, driving many party leaders into exile.

Speaking to RFA on Wednesday, Nuth Savana—spokesperson for the General Directorate of Prisons—said that inmates’ families are allowed to bring them food, medicine, and other amenities, and that prison officials always pay attention to the condition of their prisoners’ health.

The rate of new COVID-19 infections in the prisons is now declining, though one new case was recently found in the Kompong Thom provincial prison, Nuth Savana said. Physical contact between prisoners and their families is still barred, though, he added.

“During a workshop we held yesterday with the International Red Cross, we discussed the possibility of allowing video calls or phone calls between inmates and their families. These are all just options for discussion, though,” he said. “We haven’t made any decisions yet.”

'We cannot be silent'

Prum Chantha, the wife of political opposition figure Kak Komphear who remains locked up in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison, said that after her group—named “Friday wives” for their weekly protests—appealed for help from foreign embassies, prison officials allowed her to send food to her husband.

She is still not allowed to meet with him in person, though, she said.

Prum Chantha said she is concerned over reports of the spread of COVID-19 in the prisons, adding that her group will continue to appeal to foreign embassies in Cambodia for intervention in their husbands’ cases.

“We cannot be silent. My husband didn’t commit any legal offense, so I must demand his release and look for ways to make that happen,” she said. “If all these officials were in this position, they would also miss their spouses and children,” she added.

Prison food often lacks nutrition, and prison officials should allow inmates’ family members to visit and bring them food, said Am Sam Ath of the local rights group Licadho.

“We always look for ways to encourage the prison department to facilitate visits by the families of detainees,” he said.

Courts and the relevant government departments should also address the issue of overcrowding in the prisons, Am Sam Ath said.

“We have seen the the Ministry of Justice is currently drafting a proposal to allow inmates whose full sentences have almost been served to be released under certain conditions. But we also want to see a decision reached in the cases of prisoners held while waiting for their trial.”

“We call on the courts to speed up their procedures so that these cases can be heard, with some detainees being given priority for release,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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