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Report: North Korea forced laborers went on strike in Kuwait

By Elizabeth Shim
Report: North Korea forced laborers went on strike in Kuwait
North Korean forced laborers in Kuwait went on strike after a Pyongyang construction firm refused to pay them with a regular salary. Photo by Philip Lange/ Shutterstock

SEOUL, June 8 (UPI) -- North Korean forced laborers in Kuwait went on strike after they weren't paid their salaries, Radio Free Asia reported Wednesday.

The North Korean workers took collective action after a Pyongyang state construction company operating in Kuwait told them that they would be paid with checks rather than in cash for their monthly salary. In the aftermath of the protest, the workers were summoned back to North Korea, according to the report.

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A similar strike took place in Qatar in March ahead of the Seventh Party Congress in May, when North Korean construction company executives told their workers to increase their productivity for the regime, South Korean news service News 1 reported.

Two North Korean laborers eventually escaped the site and made their way to a local police station, according to the report.

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North Korean state construction companies could be stepping up the exploitation of workers while being increasingly unable to provide for their most basic needs due to economic sanctions.

A South Korean unification ministry official who spoke to local press on the condition of anonymity said it's possible the international embargoes are influencing the regime and the impact of the sanctions are having a trickle-down effect on overseas North Korean workers.

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There is also speculation in Seoul that the recent passage of a U.S. sanction targeting North Korea's transactions in the international financial system could deeply impact North Korean enterprises overseas, including state-run restaurants. Asset freezes that are part of United Nations Security Council sanctions resolution 2270 could also be placing Pyongyang's enterprises in difficulty.

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As business declines at various locations, it's foreseeable that more North Koreans abroad seek an exit from the demands of the regime.

But Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at South Korea's Sejong Institute, said the new sanctions could still leave North Korean populations unaffected.

Cheong said overseas forced laborers have little to no opportunity for contact with the outside world, and they may not be as willing or motivated to leave as state-run restaurant workers have recently done.

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