Feb. 7 (UPI) — A North Korean defector in Russia faces involuntary repatriation after spending years as a forced laborer, according to local reports.
Moscow newspaper Kommersant reported Sunday that Choi Myong Bok, a 54-year-old North Korean national, is in police custody and at risk of deportation.
Online newspaper Fontanka published a similar report.
Choi, who had worked as a manual laborer, escaped state surveillance for some time and remarried an ethnic Korean woman in Russia before he was detained.
Choi, who has a wife and family in the North, chose not to defect to South Korea for fear of retaliatory measures against his relatives left behind in his country of origin, according to the report.
Choi has two sons, ages 3 and 5, with his new family in Russia, but is at risk of deportation.
Russia is a traditional North Korea partner, and records show Moscow granted permanent asylum to only two North Koreans between 2004 and 2014, after receiving 211 North Korea refugee applications, according to Yonhap.
Russia also continues to cooperate with Pyongyang on the deployment of North Korea forced laborers within its borders, and about 30,000 North Korea state workers toil away at construction sites or logging camps for marginal pay in the country.
A Russian human rights group that is calling for Choi’s release said he first began working as a laborer in the Russian Far East in 1999. Choi began to live as an undocumented migrant in St. Petersburg in 2005.
The European Court of Human Rights has condemned the arrest and is calling for Choi’s protection.
North Korea is planning to dispatch more state workers abroad in 2017, according to South Korean news service Daily NK.
North Korea workers have been sent to work in China, where labor costs are rising, according to the report.
A source in China familiar with the trend told Daily NK there are 4,500 North Korea workers in Hunchun, a city in the northeastern province of Jilin.