Malaysia rounding up illegal North Koreans in Sarawak

KUCHING (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The authorities in Sarawak are in the process of rounding up some 140 North Korean workers whose work permits have expired, Sarawak Chief Minister Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said on Wednesday (March 8).

Datuk Abang Johari said Sarawak was waiting for instructions from the Federal 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.

"As I said yesterday, we have about 170-plus North Koreans here. Some are illegal as their permits have expired. They are now being tackled by our Immigration Department," he said.

"The question is whether we can deport them or not. Deportation has to be done because they are illegal but with the current diplomatic problem, we have to get clearance from the Federal Government," he told reporters on Wednesday.

Abang Johari said those with expired permits mostly worked in construction and coal mining.

He added that there were another 36 North Koreans with valid permits who were still working in the state.

It was reported on Tuesday that 37 North Korean construction workers in Kuala Tatau near Bintulu had been detained for overstaying.

A national daily reported that they were arrested in a joint operation by the Immigration Department, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and Marine Police.