In Russia’s far-east, thousands of North Korean workers are given a glimpse of a world outside the tight controls of their own government’s propaganda.
But that small window may be about to close after the United Nations passed sweeping new sanctions Monday designed to increase the pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear program.
Around 30,000 North Koreans work in Russia, according to a US State Department report, in a variety of different sectors, including logging and construction.
Some of these workers are kept in isolated labor camps, where the report said there have been “credible reports of slave-like conditions,” which it said Moscow has failed to investigate. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The luckier ones work in Vladivostok, where they are a common site on construction sites, laboring to renovate the city’s Soviet-era buildings, worn down by icy winter temperatures and the salt spray off the Pacific.
While they will be allowed to finish their contracts under the new sanctions, no new North Koreans will be allowed to replace them, a development that worried many of the workers themselves.
“We really like Vladivostok,” a North Korean worker told CNN ahead of the sanctions vote. “It would be bad if I can’t work here anymore, it’s very nice here, I can send money to my son.”
He did not give his name for fear of official reprisals on return to North Korea.