Qatar is helping North Korea, the brutal regime that killed University of Virginia honors student Otto Warmbier last month, by employing North Korean citizens and soldiers.
How is this even possible?
The North Korean regime, led by Kim Jong Un, is currently subject to international sanctions as it continues to defy calls to end Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
The foreign currency earned by North Korea's overseas workforce, which rotates every three years in Qatar, is a crucial tool for propping up the isolated country’s fragile economy.
The Qatar-North Korean connection emerged just following 9/11 with very heavy activity from 2003 to present. North Korean workers are contracted with local construction companies through North Korean recruitment firms in Qatar including Sudo Construction, Gunmyung Construction, Namgang Construction and Genco.
The firms are all managed by North Korea’s External Construction Bureau. Some of the workers are soldiers sent by North Korea to earn cash for Pyongyang’s military. Sudo and Gunmyung made their first inroads to Qatar in 2003, followed by Genco in 2010. The recruit firms are employing some 3,000 North Korean laborers for pavement and building construction. Why North Korean workers were in Qatar before the awarding of the World Cup 2022 in 2010 only illustrates the ties that bind Doha and Pyongyang together.
The North Korean workers hope to collect their earnings when they return to North Korea, but according to a series of testimonies from defectors and experts, workers receive as little as 10 percent of their salaries when they go home, and most receive nothing. One North Korean worker at a construction site in central Doha said, “We are here to earn foreign currency for our nation.”
Under Doha’s kafala labor system, these North Korean workers are slaves to their employers and slaves to the State of Qatar. North Koreans who find themselves out of work don’t leave Qatar as mandated by law; in most cases these laborers turn to selling bootleg alcohol to raise money for Pyongyang as part of an illicit network to support the North Korean economy.
In other words, all labor income derived from these Qatari slaves go directly to Pyongyang’s deadly nuclear and missile program. In a sense, Qatar, along with its ally Iran, whose own nuclear and missile programs are under sanctions, appears to make a triangulation of terror and mayhem to challenge global stability.
Currently, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is calling for sharp sanctions against North Korean as Pyongyang expands its missile capabilities are preparing for its next nuclear test. While the White House and the Pentagon are reviewing options to deal with the recalcitrant Hermit Kingdom, the international community is rallying around the idea that North Korean must be dealt with appropriately.
Although China and Russia are approaching North Korean differently than the United States, a common nexus is Qatar. Only when China, Russia, and the United States put Qatar, Iran, and North Korea into the same penalty box will changes in behavior result.
Interestingly, this fact has been the problem with international action against Iran and North Korea from the start. Iran and North Korea are treated separately because of geography when in fact Tehran and Pyongyang should be treated as the same problem: Both countries share technology specifically in the missile field where this knowhow is evident in the evolution of both country’s weapon systems during tests. This connection is decades old.
To be sure, Doha is helping both Tehran and Pyongyang achieve their goals by continuing its policy of resistance. Specifically, in Qatar’s case, its interference through its many positions on various regional issues are on record at various points in time and have contributed to the escalation of regional crises and deterioration of ties with the other Gulf countries. North Korea is no exception to this emerging body of evidence.
What readers need to know is that Qatar’s resistance is not only about terrorism or the threat. Emir Tamim and the State of Qatar are undermining the international order on a much broader scale than previously documented. In addition, Qatar can weaponize North Korean laborers, especially military men, who are working in Doha. North Korean laborers can serve in protecting the Qatari state just as Turkey is doing now.
Overall, the Doha-Tehran-Pyongyang brotherhood is a danger to us all, even to university students such as Otto Warmbier and demands coordinated action by the international community to rid of this evil.
Salman Al-Ansari is the founder and president of the Washington, DC-based Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC). You can find him on Twitter at @Salansar1.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.