Russia Starts Deporting North Korean Migrant Workers

Russia has begun implementing a United Nations Security Council resolution promulgated last December to deport North Korean migrant workers whose wages may have been used to fund Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

The UNSC resolution calls for all countries to deport all North Korean migrant workers within a period of 24 months. According to reports, 90% of their wages are forcibly remitted to Pyongyang which North Korea has disputed. There have also been allegations of North Koreans being subjected to forced labour.

Alexander Matsegora, Russia’s ambassador to North Korea refuted the claims of forced labour calling the allegations “complete nonsense”. However, Matsegora did admit Chinese labourers were unwilling to take the jobs because they felt the pay was too low.

Matsegora disclosed that there are an estimated 12,000 North Korean migrant workers in Russia’s eastern Primorsky Krai region.

Lisa Collins, an expert on Korea from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies believes that if Russia does indeed deport North Korean migrant workers, it could significantly affect funding sources for Pyongyang’s nuclear development program. It has been estimated that North Korea earns between $200 million to $500 million per year from overseas remittances:

“If Russia is truly enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions and expelling North Korean workers, I think that would initially be a positive sign. If other countries follow suit and expel North Korean workers this could cumulatively have a large effect on the total number of money that the North Korean regime earns abroad.”

However the resolution could negatively impact Russia’s economy. North Korean migrant workers are crucial to Russia’s construction industry. The head of Russia’s Far East region asked Moscow to retain around 10,000 North Korean workers despite the resolution. Matsegora has given assurances Russia will comply with the resolution and will continue to expel North Korean workers.

Daniel Wertz a representative of the National Committee of North Korea has expressed his doubts on Russia’s sincerity in complying with the UNSC’s resolution:

“North Korea has sent labourers 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 labourers to work in sectors such as construction.

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