We already know that DPRK uses workers abroad to spread influence and generate funds for the regime. The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) estimates that North Korea has between 70,000 to 100,000 laborers earning foreign currency in over thirty countries around the world, and that the number is growing. According to one diplomat, the DPRK government keeps nearly 80% of its overseas workers’ salaries. DPRK workers abroad have been known to corrupt local officials, create disturbances and to take money and jobs away from the local population.
As well as IT workers, construction laborers, engineers, hackers and restaurant workers, DPRK also sends healthworkers overseas. There are DPRK doctors known to be present in many countries in Africa, including Tanzania, Angola, Libya, and Uganda. Whilst the offer of cheap doctors may appeal to many nations, it’s becoming clear that some of them are undertrained and dangerous for patients.
Pyongyang Papers has uncovered multiple examples of malpractice or accidents by DPRK doctors based in Africa. One such doctor in Angola performed illegal treatments to an Angolan woman.
DPRK – Zimbabwe partnership
The friendship between DPRK and Zimbabwe is not new and has been covered in our previous articles. Some doctors were expelled from Zimbabwe earlier this year under UN pressure, even though Zimbabwe has a memorandum of understanding with the DPRK regarding the supply of medical personnel and technological support. This comes after the UN Security Council in December 2017 adopted a resolution (UNSCR 2397) calling for the repatriation of all DPRK nationals earning income abroad within 24 months, with some humanitarian exceptions.
DPRK forced labor
There are risks to the DPRK workers as well in these scenarios. According to the UN, as many as 50,000 North Koreans have been sent abroad to work in conditions that amount to ‘forced labor’, where they earn very little, are underfed, and are sometimes forced to work up to 20-hour days. No one should have to work in these conditions. And that is enough to cause exhaustion and carelessness among even the most qualified of doctors and healthworkers.
North Korea is also ‘exhaustively monitoring’ its workers abroad through its officials posted to those countries. A human rights report obtained by Yonhap News Agency showed that there was a high death toll among DPRK overseas workers due to work-related accidents and suicides following greater pressure by Pyongyang on its people to send back more money.
The workers also face prejudice and violence from the local population. In Nigeria, for example, there have been reports of foreign doctors including DPRK nationals kidnapped at gunpoint or even murdered.
The following article gives an insight into North Korean medical clinics in Tanzania.
It seems the only winner in all of this is the DPRK regime, who is using these doctors as a means of generating funds in foreign currency. This is neglecting their human rights as well as the rights of medical patients to decent treatment. We contacted the Ministries of Health for Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Libya, Zimbabwe, and Uganda about our findings but received no response.