- By Suzanne MerkelsonSuzanne Merkelson is an editorial assistant at Foreign Policy.
Can North Koreans living and working abroad possibly have it worse than those citizens who stay home? From waitresses who work in government-run restaurants across Asia to seamstresses essentially enslaved in the Czech Republic to the well-documented North Korean football team publically shamed after its World Cup loss, it’s obvious that the regime’s brutality doesn’t stop at the border. Now, the estimated 200 North Korean citizens living in Libya have been banned from returning to North Korea, due to fears that news of the Arab Spring will leak to the country’s 23 million subjugated inhabitants.
As the Telegraph reports, Kim Jong Il’s regime had a close relationship with Muammar al-Qaddafi — the North Koreans sent doctors, nurses, and construction workers to Libya, earning hard currency needed to buy missiles and equipment for North Korean’s nascent nuclear weapons program. The North Koreans in Libya join other nationals who had been working in Tunisia and Egypt not allowed to return home.
According to the Telegraph, North Korean media hasn’t reported on Qaddafi’s death and only about one percent of North Koreans are even aware of the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa — mainly government officials and a few citizens who travel to China for business.
As an editorial in the Korean Herald says:
Pyongyang’s silence about the fall of the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt and the bloody death of Gaddafi reveals Kim Jong-il’s awareness of the vulnerability of his regime in the process of a third-generation dynastic succession of power. Despite their boasting of the perfect loyalty of the 23 million people to the party and the leader, the ruling elite are afraid of what effect the information on the fates of the overseas dictatorships will have on the oppressed people of the country.