140 of 176 North Korean workers in Sarawak without work permit

KUCHING: Among the 176 North Korean workers in Sarawak, 140 have been found to be over- staying after their work permits expired.

The Immigration Department is now in the process of rounding them up, while the 36 others are working as usual in their respective companies because they have valid working visas.

Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said the North Korean workers, who are mainly involved in the construction and mining sectors, were engaged by Sarawak companies for their expertise.

“They were engaged when we still had diplomatic ties with North Korea,” he clarified.

He said the over-staying North Koreans would have to be deported but in view of the current situation, the state would have to wait for clearance from the federal government.

“Just wait because it (the rounding up of illegal North Koreans) happened after the controversy.  The question now is whether we deport (them) or not.

“Of course deportation has to be done. They are illegal. But then with the current diplomatic problem that we have, we have to get clearance from the government,” said Abang Johari at a press conference in Wisma Bapa Malaysia here yesterday.

Meanwhile, when paying a courtesy call on the chief minister yesterday morning, Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot told the media that Sarawak is the only state in Malaysia that engages North Korean workers.

“As far as we know, Sarawak is the only state which employs North Korean workers,” said Riot, adding that they were engaged under the Sarawak Labour Ordinance.

While there were reports saying that most of the North Korean workers in Sarawak were working in Selantik coal mine in Sri Aman Division, a reliable source said there were no North Korean workers at the coal mine at the moment.

“The last batch of North Korean workers had been sent back last October. There are no more North Korean workers at Selantik coal mine,” said the source, adding that the mining company was presently in the process of engaging workers from China and Indonesia.

North Korean workers have been known to be working in coal mines and the construction sector in Sarawak but because these non-resident workers are reclusive, the public are not aware of their presence.

Their presence in the state, however, has been brought to the open following the strained diplomatic relationship between Malaysia and North Korea in light of the investigations over the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 on Feb 13.

The disagreement has resulted in North Korea’s decision to prevent Malaysian citizens from leaving the country.

In response, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak summoned an emergency meeting of the National Security Council and instructed the Inspector-General of Police to prevent all North Koreans from leaving Malaysia until there is assurance of the safety and security of all Malaysian nationals in North Korea.

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