KUCHING: The authorities should find out if North Korean workers are sent abroad to work as ‘state-sponsored slaves’ whose wages are confiscated and used by the North Korea regime as claimed by activists and UN investigations.
The Borneo Post journalists in an effort to have answers to the various claims managed to speak to a North Korean worker who is holding a valid pass and working in a construction site here.
Kim, 38, when probed on his salary said: “You would not understand and Malaysians and anyone from any country would not understand.”
According to a report in The Telegraph on Oct 29, 2015, human rights activists have claimed that tens of thousands of North Koreas are being sent to work abroad in conditions that amount to forced labour, to circumvent United Nations sanctions and earn up to US$2.3b in foreign currency for the country as revealed by a UN investigator.
In another report carried by The Telegraph on Feb 29, 2015 a North Korea Strategy Centre reported that a North Korean worker in Russia was quoted as saying: “There is no contract, they say they will give us health insurance and hearing access but we never receive anything.”
Kim was one of the six legal North Koreans working at a construction along the Batu Kawah-Matang Link Road here.
Kim was willing to talk to the journalists while the others either looked hostile or were indifferent when approached.
They were seen doing plasterwork on scaffolding at the back of a building under construction. They worked quietly without talking to each other. Even with our presence, they did not stop work. Kim tried his best to answer some of the questions posed to him in basic Malay.
According to him, he has been working in Sarawak for the past four years and he started working at the Batu Kawah-Matang Link Road construction site two months ago after working in Kota Samarahan area.
He said he has a valid work permit, which he referred to as passport, which will expire in May, after which he would go back to his country.
“Working in this country is okay but it’s too hot here,” he said, touching his face and gesturing that he could not stand the heat. Kim and his five colleagues were obviously very suntanned, making it hard to distinguish them from local workers except that all of them wore proper industrial yellow boots while the locals did not bother.
Kim’s grasp of Malay language was very minimal but he still tried to explain as much as he could.
When asked if he was aware of the tense diplomatic relationship between Malaysia and North Korea, Kim shook his head with a smile and refused to comment.
The journalists were uncertain whether he understood the question posed to him. Kim refused to have his photo taken.
The local workers working with these North Koreans said they also could not communicate with them properly except to use simple Malay and sign language.
Meanwhile, 16 more illegal North Korean workers were rounded up in Lawas yesterday, bringing the total number to 53, revealed Deputy Home Affairs Minister Datuk Masir Kujat.
He said they were detained at the Lawas police station. “They will be transferred to Bekenu Immigration Depot soon,” Masir told The Borneo Post.
On March 7, 37 of them were arrested at Kuala Tatau. The total number of illegal North Koreans in Sarawak is 140 and the authorities are still looking for the remaining 87, according to Masir.
Last Wednesday, Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg disclosed that out of the 176 North Korean workers in Sarawak, 140 of them had been found to be over-staying after their work permits expired and 36 of them had legal work permits. The North Koreans are engaged in the construction and mining sectors in the state.