North Koreans in China struggle as work disappears — Radio Free Asia

North Korean workers sent to China to make money for Pyongyang are struggling to make ends meet, with coronavirus lockdowns pushing the labor market, China sources told RFA.

North Korea, which is cash, sends workers to countries like China and Russia to earn foreign exchange to the ruling party. The companies that employ them pay much higher wages than they could ever hope to earn in North Korea, but their North Korean traders gather the brethren, leaving them with only a fraction.

Under normal circumstances, Pyongyang can make a lot of money this way. But renewed barriers of coronavirus in the Chinese border town of Dandong, across the Yalu River border from North Korea’s Sinuiju, mean there are many North Korean employees in the city and very little work.

“These days, just like in big cities like Xi’an, coronavirus cases confirmed increases in the Dandong area, causing a major setback in the production and distribution of products,” a Chinese citizen of Korean descent told RFA’s Korean Service January 9th. .

Xi’an, a city of 13 million people in central China, began a shutdown last month as part of a “Zero-COVID” policy. Other cities, including Dandong, have also begun similar shutdowns.

‘Food processing, clothing and electronics factories, where many of the North Koreans work, have been closed since early December. The North Korean workers have been hit hard, “said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

“These days, the North Koreans here in Dandong can not even make enough money for their housing, let alone say about earning foreign currency,” the source said.

The shutdown is also hurting some Chinese business owners. Sometimes companies agree to provide food and lodging.

“They used to make a lot of money by hiring the North Koreans for peanuts, but now they have to pay for lodging and meals for these workers even though their factories are closing down,” the source said.

Sometimes it is the North Korean company that manages the workers that gets hit.

“I know a guy who leads the North Korean workers. He visits his Chinese colleagues these days and begs them to offer some work. He says their housing and food are not guaranteed and that they need money. He even promised that they would work for minimum wage if they give the workers a job, any job at all, ”the source said.

Under normal circumstances, North Koreans in China have higher living standards than they have at home, the source said.

“They eat much better compared to their home country. They can eat not only rice but meat, fish, eggs and all kinds of vegetables. But now that they are not making money, the quality of their meals has dropped a lot, ”said the source.

‘The Chinese authorities have ordered strong quarantine policies ahead of the Winter Olympics in early February. They shut cities down, restricting movement. That’s why the small factories near the border with North Korea are not all in operation. “

Another Chinese citizen of Korean descent told the RFA that North Korean workers used to eat well in cafeterias at the factories where they work. But now “all they get are pieces of bread in the morning and cabbage soup with rice for lunch and dinner,” said the other source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

“These workers are leaving their home country and their families to work abroad. The only good thing they have is that they can eat better over here. But not these days because they are not able to work,” he said. the other source.

In cases where the North Korean human resources company is responsible for housing and feeding the workers, managers have to cut costs by providing them with poorer quality food.

It is difficult to estimate the number of North Koreans in China during the pandemic, but several news outlets have estimated that there may be between 80,000 and 100,000.

Earlier RFA reports said their monthly salary is approximately $ 400, of which only $ 100 is paid to individuals and the rest is withdrawn to the North Korean authorities.

North Korean labor exports should have stopped as UN nuclear sanctions froze the issuance of work visas and ordered the repatriation of North Korean nationals working abroad by the end of 2019.

But Pyongyang sometimes sends workers to China and Russia on short-term student or visitor visas to circumvent sanctions.

Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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