Nigeria repatriated seven North Koreans on Wednesday, the country’s immigration service (NIS) said, with the men now barred from returning to the country for life.
The reason for the deportation order, reportedly handed down from the country’s interior minister Rauf Aregbesola, is unclear.
“The comptroller general, NIS, Mr Muhammad Babandede, has carried out the deportation of seven DPRK nationals from Nigeria for life,” NIS public affairs officer Sunday James said in a statement carried by multiple local outlets.
They have been named as Jo Sun Phil, Jang Sung Chol, Che Chun Hyok, Pak Yong Gon, Ri Yong Il, Ri Hak Su, and Ri Tong Nam.
Details on the men’s background in the open source are scarce, but a Ri Tong Nam appears on an official 2015-dated itinerary by the Vietnamese government of a visit by the DPRK’s Ministry of External Economic Relations (MEER).
That document lists Ri as serving as head of a MEER-affiliated organization called the Korea South-South Cooperation Corp, an organization designated by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in 2017.
Detailing its reasons for designation at the time, OFAC said the organization was reported to have “engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for the exportation of workers from North Korea.”
But while it said that the group was known to operate in “China, Russia, Cambodia, and Poland,” it did not name Nigeria.
Nigeria is known to host over a hundred DPRK overseas workers: a report by the National Committee for North Korea’s (NCNK) North Korea in the World project last year estimated that up to 200 could be operating in-country in the IT, medical, and construction sectors.
Many of these operations are managed by the Korea General Company for External Construction (GENCO), a recent UN Panel of Experts report revealed.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) requires that these workers be sent home by the end of the year.
Another of the deported men, Pak Yong Gon, also shares the same name as a North Korean official listed in 2013 as working as a Second Secretary at the country’s embassy in Beijing.
NK News was unable to verify whether these were the same men, however, and requests for further information to the Nigerian interior ministry went unanswered.
North Korea’s embassy in Nigeria did not respond to requests for comment on the deportations this week.
The men returned home on a flight from Abuja’s Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, with some local news reports suggesting they stood accused of attempting “to undermine national security” — claims NK News was not able to verify.
This week’s repatriations are not the first from Nigeria in the last few years: September 2018 also saw two North Koreans deported by authorities, accused of having “failed to regularize their stay upon the expiration of their contract with Zamfara State Government.”
Despite this, the two countries have long enjoyed close ties, signing a cooperation agreement in 2014 to promote the exchange of knowledge in information technology.
North Korea’s vice premier Ri Ryong Nam traveled to the country in June, in a visit in which he held talks with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured image: Flickr user OpenUpEd