PETALING JAYA: Authorities are looking for 117 North Koreans in Malaysia whose work permits have expired, according to the Immigration Department, CNN reported today.
All of the 117 wanted by immigration are in the state of Sarawak.
It is the only state that employs North Korean workers, the country’s human resource minister said, according to Bernama.
Immigration Department director-general Mustafar Ali told CNN today that authorities were now seeking the North Korean workers.
North Koreans were temporarily barred from leaving Malaysia during a three-week diplomatic row with Pyongyang following the death of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Mustafar Ali said the workers were now given one week to turn themselves in, adding that his department knew of their whereabouts.
“We will definitely go after them as their work permits have expired, and thus they are considered illegal workers,” he said. “But first we would like to give them or their employers a week’s notice to voluntarily turn them in.”
Mustafar Ali would not say which companies the men worked for, only that they were in the coal and construction industries.
North Koreans have been employed in the Malaysian coal industry in the past.
In 2014, 46 North Koreans were employed at the Selantik coal mine in Sarawak when an explosion hit, killing three people – including a North Korean, according to Bernama.
The deputy home affairs minister at the time, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, told reporters the North Koreans were brought in to work via a special arrangement between the Sarawak and North Korean governments because locals would not take the jobs and specialised workers were needed.
Domestic coal is believed to be the biggest source of North Korea’s foreign currency. It accounted for a third of all of Pyongyang’s exports in 2015.
North Korea also sends thousands of workers abroad, and their wages are believed to be worth billions of dollars to the regime, according to a United Nations report.