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One N. Korean worker’s tale of exploitation and desperation in China

In the fall of 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Chinese middle manager approached Yong-hee (pseudonym), a North Korean worker in her 20s dispatched to China and working at a seafood processing factory in Dalian, and whispered quietly:

“Yong-hee, instead of just suffering here, how about hiding for a while at the house of my relative in the countryside? He wants to take a North Korean woman as his bride. If you just give him one child, he’ll give you RMB 80,000 [USD 11,200]. With that money, you can go straight back to North Korea, spend a short time in prison, and then live well without struggling like you are now. Think it over and come to me anytime.”

Yong-hee’s heart wavered momentarily. After the COVID-19 outbreak, living conditions at the factory had been deteriorating day by day, and as factory work decreased, she could not even save money. She had been thinking that it would be better to earn money even if it meant doing hard labor for more than 13 hours a day.

In the summer of 2021, Yong-hee developed COVID-19 symptoms. Although she received a brief examination at a temporary clinic, she did not receive adequate medication or treatment. Weakened by malnutrition, Yong-hee collapsed several times. However, she could not even think about treatment because she had no money for the hospital. Her work team was not in a position to collect money to send her to the hospital either, so she was forced to painfully endure her suffering.

Yong-hee decides to accept the offer

Around this time, as contact with her family in North Korea was also cut off, Yong-hee fell into deeper despair. While the anxiety of not knowing when the pandemic would end was great, the longing for her family and the guilt of not being able to earn money as a worker in China made it even harder for her.

Eventually, Yong-hee decided to run away. She made up her mind to accept the Chinese middle manager’s offer, secretly leave the factory, and marry a Chinese man. However, her plan to leave the site was exposed to another North Korean female worker in the same work team. This fact was reported directly to the superiors, and as a result, Yong-hee was confined in a small space within the factory.

In the fall of 2023, Yong-hee was repatriated to North Korea. During the interrogation process after repatriation, she said: “I’m not the only female worker in China who tried to escape and hide in the country.” She was treated as if she had lost her mind and then classified as a “No. 49 subject” and sent to a mental hospital.

Yong-hee’s story is a prime example of how North Korean female workers dispatched to China were placed in poor conditions during the COVID-19 period. Although the pandemic has ended, North Korean female workers dispatched to China are still being forced into long hours of labor and used as tools to earn foreign currency for the North Korean regime.

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

Please send any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

Read in Korean

July 03, 2024 at 12:30PM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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