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Sent from North Korea, exploited in Poland

Hundreds of North Korean workers are believed to be toiling in Poland under degrading conditions. An MEP calls on the European Commission to act, but the EC says it’s a national matter. Others remain silent.

“I could feel the tremendous fear he was going through. The fear that something horrible would happen to his family because he did not return to North Korea,” says Kati Piri, a Dutch Social Democratic politician and a member of the European Parliament (MEP).

She was talking about a former North Korean worker who appeared at a parliamentary hearing to tell his story as well as those of others like him who are forced by the East Asian nation’s regime to work under harsh, inhumane conditions in foreign countries.

The ex-worker wanted to remain anonymous. That’s why his name was not revealed nor were pictures taken at the hearing, Piri said. Nevertheless, his story raises stark questions about the issue of forced labor in Europe.

It is no secret that Pyongyang sends North Koreans to work abroad and pockets huge sums of their salaries. In this way, the isolated nation’s ruling clique gets hold of much-needed foreign currency.

A UN report released in October 2015 estimated the number of North Koreans working in slave-like conditions in foreign nations to be about 50,000. It noted that the workers were employed in industries such as construction, mining, logging and textile manufacturing.

Their forced labor generated up to two billion euros for Pyongyang, stated the UN special rapporteur Marzuki Darusman. Likewise, British human rights organization, European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea (EAHRNK), released a report in September 2015 on the same issue, pointing to EU member states Malta and Poland as destination countries for forced laborers.

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