Hundreds of North Korean nationals in Europe and Russia are forced to undertake manual labour without breaks, sleep at their workplace, and send their earnings to prop up Kim Jong Un’s lavish lifestyle, BBC Panorama has reported following an undercover investigation.
An unidentified North Korean worker in Vladivostok, Russia, told the programme: “You’re treated like a dog here. You have to eat trash. You have to give up being human.”
He added that he and his fellow workers had to hand over most of their earnings back to North Korea via an intermediary, known as a “captain.”
“Some call it ‘Party Duty.’ Others call it ‘Revolutionary Duty.’ Those who can’t pay it cannot stay here,” he said. “Ten years ago it was about 15,000 Robles ($242/£170) a month, but now it’s twice as much.”
These wages, combined, can generate as much as $2 billion (£1.4 billion) a year, The Washington Post reported.
It is then used to finance Kim Jong Un’s lavish lifestyle and nuclear development programme, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to the UK said.
Thae Yong Ho, who defected from the regime in 2016, told the BBC: “It financed the private luxury of the Kim family, the nuclear programme, and the army. That’s a fact.”
The North Korean leader recently travelled to China in a bulletproof train containing flat screen TVs and Apple products — a great show of luxury while millions of his citizens remain undernourished or lack basic access to healthcare. He also tested multiple short-range, medium-range, and intercontinental ballistic missiles last year.
North Korean slaves in Poland, are also forced to live where they work and aren’t allowed to take any breaks, the BBC reported.
A North Korean supervisor in charge of foreign workers at Szczecin, northwestern Poland, told the programme:
“Our guys are stationed in Poland only to work. They only take unpaid holidays. When there are deadlines, we work without breaks. Not like the Polish. They work eight hours a day and then go home.
“We don’t. We work as long as we have to.”
There are about 150,000 North Koreans foreign workers worldwide, many of whom are in Russia, China, and Poland. About 800 are in Poland, mostly working as welders and manual labourers.
The UN in December ordered countries to stop authorising visas to North Korean workers and to send them home within two years.
Poland said it stopped issuing visas to North Korean workers, but that doesn’t mean the activity has stopped.
A Polish manager secretly filmed by the BBC acknowledged that he continued to employ North Korean workers, but complained that it was getting harder to get permits for them.