February 25, 2024

North Korean workers abroad aren’t slaves

Far from exploited, laborers outside the North make much more than at home

In the city of Dandong, on the Chinese side of the Yalu River, one can see a long row of restaurants decorated with North Korean flags. Songs about the leaders, Great, Dear and Supreme, are heard from the windows of these establishments, and the beautiful women dressed in smart uniforms wait to greet guests at the front of each. These are North Korean government-operated restaurants, to be found not only in China, but also in Southeast Asia, Russia and Europe,.

On the main thoroughfare of the Russian city of Yuzhnosakhalinsk, on the southern tip of the Sakhalin island, nowadays one can encounter teams of construction workers painting and beautifying the facades of old Soviet buildings that line the street. They work from dawn to dusk dressed in drab overalls, with little regard for safety. These are North Korean construction workers dispatched to Russia by the North Korean government.