The U.S. imposed sanctions on two companies for exporting forced labor from North Korea

Washington urged the countries where North Korean workers remained to send them home.

The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on two other companies suspected of involvement in the export of forced labor from North Korea and urged other countries to send home all remaining North Korean workers.

According to a statement from the U.S. Treasury Department, the blacklist includes the Russian construction company Mokran and the North Korean company Korea Cholsan General Trading operating in Russia.

“North Korea has long exploited its citizens, sending them to distant countries to work in exhausting conditions to financially support Pyongyang and its weapons programs,” Finance Minister Stephen Mnuchin said in a statement.

“Those countries where North Korean workers are still left behind should send them home,” he added.

A UN Security Council resolution adopted in 2017 requires all countries to send home all North Korean workers by December 22 last year, preventing them from earning foreign currency for North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

According to U.S. estimates, Pyongyang earned more than $500 million a year by operating about 100,000 workers sent abroad. About 50,000 of them were in China and 30,000 in Russia.

In May, Russian media circulated the comments of the Russian ambassador to Pyongyang, who said that Moscow’s efforts to repatriate North Korean workers had been hampered by a coronavirus outbreak and that DPRK’s closure of borders meant the workers had been sent home.

In January, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters that about 1,000 North Korean workers remained in Russia. She said it was impossible to send all the workers home because of transport restrictions.

Statistics of the Russian Interior Ministry published in January showed that the number of tourist and student visas issued by Russia to North Koreans increased sharply last year.

Experts suspect that many of those who received tourist visas actually work illegally in Russia.

As the U.S. Treasury Department said on Thursday, under the guise of Korea Cholsan General Trading, a network of Russian companies were looking for North Korean workers and were getting work permits for them in Russia.

Mokran also requested and obtained work permits for North Korean workers.

In December, Moscow and Beijing attempted to lift several sanctions against North Korea, but failed.