Greg Scarlatoiu is the executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea
Question: Can you describe the kind of conditions North Korean overseas workers live in?
Answer: It really depends on the site managers, some of them look after the workers, and some of them don’t. Individual waitresses can’t keep their tips. Kind-hearted managers may allow that within reason, but only while assuming great risks themselves. The women live together, work together and commute together, usually in a vehicle provided by the North Korean authorities. They sometimes go shopping, but always in a group, and never alone. If it becomes apparent that a customer is getting too close to one of the women, she is removed from that situation or simply sent home.
When workers are sent back to North Korea after making a mistake, how would they be treated?
They would most likely be sent to a reeducation camp (kyohwa-so), or worse, to a political prison camp (kwanli-so). I have only spoken with North Korean defectors [who had worked] overseas and they knew about such people.
If a worker defects, would their families be sent to the gulag?
There used to be no exceptions. But nowadays, there may be some, depending on the seniority of the respective worker. The higher the rank, the more likely it would be that the family would end up in the gulag.
Why is three years the maximum time North Korean restaurant workers can spend overseas?
Most of them are daughters of the elite. By spending more than three years overseas, they would become too accustomed to an ‘alien’ way of life. Families want them to come back and get married.
Read the story of how a North Korean waitress escaped from her job in one of the regime's restaurants, in Siem Reap, after falling in love with a South Korean man.