May 29 (UPI) -- A member of the United Nations Panel of Experts of the U.N. Security Council says North Korea may have delayed the repatriation of state-sanctioned guest workers from overseas.
Maiko Takeuchi says North Korea's decision to shut its borders in the wake of COVID-19 may have resulted in the postponed return of the workers to North Korea, NHK reported
According to Takeuchi, some countries reported to the United Nations Security Council the novel coronavirus pandemic was keeping them from sending the workers back.
Russia and China, two of North Korea's closest partners, may have been delaying the repatriation even before the outbreak, however.
In January, before North Korea closed its borders, Russia's foreign ministry said North Korean workers remaining in Russia had not left because of an "insufficient number" of flights available.
In December, NHK reported dozens of workers were entering Russia at Vladivostok International Airport a day after a Dec. 22 sanctions deadline.
Chinese authorities were reportedly allowing North Korean workers in Pyongyang-run restaurants to take "visa runs" to border cities to prolong their stays, according to South Korean press reports in January.
Takeuchi said North Korea, China and Russia have sent a joint letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, urging sanctions relief. Takeuchi said the move was designed to use the pandemic to shake sanctions, according to the report.
The U.N. expert added North Korea's lack of transparency on COVID-19 data will make the country a perpetual source of infections, thereby posing a danger to neighboring countries.
The Security Council adopted a resolution in December 2017 that required U.N. member states to return all North Korean workers. The labor force is believed to be a source of funds for North Korea's illicit activities.
South Korea's unification ministry said North Korea's shutdown has impacted the country's ability to seek humanitarian aid from overseas, Yonhap reported Thursday.
North Korea is preventing the flow of essential goods, Seoul says in a new report.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated incorrectly Takeuchi spoke to NHK.