To raise money for his cash-strapped nation, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un sends tens of thousands of his own people to Russia to work in slave-like conditions.
International sanctions have crippled North Korea's economy, forcing Kim to come up with other ways to raise money. A report from the Data Base Center for North Korean Human Rights estimates that 50,000 North Korean laborers reside in Russia and work low-paying, menial jobs. Each year, they send at least $120 million back to North Korea, according to Fox News.
"The North Korean government maintains strict controls over their workers’ profits, in some cases probably taking 90 percent of their wages," said Scott Synder, director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council of Foreign Relations. "This is an issue that has been going on under the radar for a long time."
The North Korean laborers often work on construction projects and have helped build a Moscow luxury apartment and a St. Petersburg soccer stadium. Human rights groups say the laborers work under harsh conditions and are forced to live in decaying hostels. At least two North Koreans have died during the construction of the soccer stadium.
In the last 10 years, the laborers' pay has increased from $283 to $841 a month. Leaders from the Workers’ Party of Korea, the leading political party in North Korea, will seize more than half of the workers' salaries. The construction crew boss will take another 20 percent.
"[The workers] don’t take holidays," a boss of a decorating company in Russia told The New York Times. "They eat, work and sleep and nothing else. And they don’t sleep much.
“They are basically in the situation of slaves."
Despite the harsh conditions, North Korean laborers will often pay bribes to officials in their own country in order to be sent to Russia. The North Koreans will work "crazily long hours," even calling their bosses at 6 a.m. on weekends to see if there is any work for them.
"It is not slave labor but hard labor," said former Russian diplomat to North Korea Georgy Toloraya. "And it is much better here than in North Korea."
In June, the U.S. State Department issued a report concluding that North Koreans have been subjected to slave-like conditions in Russia and other countries, including China and Qatar. As a result, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has proposed even more economic sanctions against the country.
"Secretary Tillerson has called on all countries to fully implement all U.N. Security Council resolutions, sever or downgrade diplomatic relations, and isolate [North Korea] financially, including through new sanctions, severing trade relationships, expelling guest workers, and banning imports from North Korea," said a State Department official.