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Malaysians round up North Korean workers

Mar 09,2017
Malaysian police arrested 37 construction workers from North Korea on allegations they didn’t have work permits and overstayed, according to Malaysian media reports Tuesday.

The North Koreans were said to have been arrested Tuesday morning at a work site in the district of Kuala Tatau in Sarawak, the largest state of Malaysia, where more than 170 North Koreans are suspected to be working mostly in construction and coal mining.

The New Straits Times, a newspaper group in Malaysia, reported they were nabbed during a joint operation by Malaysia’s State Immigration Department, Maritime Enforcement Agency and marine police. They now are reportedly detained at an operation center controlled by the Immigration Department in Bintulu, not far from Kuala Tatau.

The Star, another Malaysian newspaper, reported Wednesday that authorities in Sarawak were “in the process of rounding up some 140 North Korean workers” whose work permits expired, quoting Abang Johari Tun Openg, the state’s chief minister.

The minister said he was waiting for instructions from Malaysia’s government on deporting the illegal workers in view of the current diplomatic stand-off between Malaysia and North Korea, which has seen both countries banning each other’s citizens from leaving, The Star reported.

Around 36 North Koreans work in the state with valid permits, the paper mentioned. “The question is whether we can deport them or not,” Abang Johari was quoted as saying. “Deportation has to be done because they are illegal but with the current diplomatic problem, we have to get clearance from the federal government.”

The legal quandary come as North Korea banned Malaysians from leaving the country Tuesday, sparking a tit-for-tat reaction by Malaysia, which later announced the same decision for North Koreans in its territory. There are only 11 Malaysians in North Korea.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]