North Koreans in Russia
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Russian Far East
Korean, Russian
Related ethnic groups
DPRK citizens at the festive procession dedicated to the 155th anniversary of Khabarovsk
DPRK citizens at the festive procession dedicated to the 155th anniversary of Khabarovsk

North Koreans in Russia consist mainly of three groups: international students, guest workers, and defectors and refugees. A 2006 study by Kyung Hee University estimated their total population at roughly 10,000.[2]

Aside from North Korean citizens living in Russia, there has also historically been significant migration from the northern provinces of Korea, especially Hamgyong, to the Russian Far East; this population of migrants became known as the Koryo-saram.[3] 65% of the Sakhalin Koreans also took up North Korean citizenship in the 1950s and 1960s in order to avoid statelessness; roughly one thousand even repatriated to North Korea, though their ancestral homes were in the southern half of the Korean peninsula.[2][4] In addition, various senior members of the Workers' Party of Korea, including Kim Il-sung himself, lived in Russia prior to Korean independence and the establishment of North Korea.[5][6]

Migration history


During the post-Korean War reconstruction period of North Korea from 1953 to 1962, many North Korean students enrolled in universities and colleges in countries of the Soviet bloc, including Russia, and others came as industrial trainees.[7]


Number of North Korean migrant workers in Asia
Number of North Korean migrant workers in Asia

In the late 1940s, roughly 9,000 North Korean migrant workers were recruited by the Soviet government to work in state-owned fisheries on Sakhalin.[8] Another 25,000 workers also came to work in fisheries during the 1950s. The second wave began in 1966 or 1967 under a secret agreement between Leonid Brezhnev and Kim Il-sung in Vladivostok, which involved North Koreans working as lumberjacks.[9][10] Roughly 15,000 to 20,000 were present in any given year. The first two waves consisted mostly of criminals or political prisoners.[9]

However, the most recent influx of North Korean workers, which began under the government of Vladimir Putin, is composed of volunteers seeking to escape unemployment and poverty at home. Most are from Pyongyang; recruitment companies prefer workers from urban areas, as they are believed to adapt better to life in other countries. By 2006, more than 10,000 North Koreans entered Russia on work visas annually, largely headed for the Russian Far East. They are closely monitored by North Korean security forces to prevent defections; many report being paid in scrip rather than legal currency.[9] In 2009, the North Korean government was estimated to earn roughly US$7 million each year in foreign exchange through their workers in Russia.[11] In 2010, reports came out from Nakhodka indicating that North Korean workers and traders there had been evacuated back to their home country due to rising military tensions with South Korea.[12] In 2011, Kim Jong-il made a visit to Russia in which he reportedly negotiated for even more North Korean workers to be sent to Russia.[13] Up to 70% of the $40 to $100 per month wages earned by the workers are reported to be taken away as "loyalty payments".[14]


The decline of the economy of North Korea has also resulted in an increasing number of North Korean refugees in Russia, also in the eastern regions. Many of these refugees are runaways from the North Korean logging camps. Both South Korean diplomatic missions and local ethnic Koreans are reluctant to provide them with any assistance. As early as 1994, the South Korean prime minister was quoted as stating "It is legally not tidy for us to grant North Koreans asylum". It is believed that North Korea ordered the assassination of South Korean consul Choi Duk-gun in 1996 as well as two private citizens in 1995, in response to their contact with the refugees. In 1999, there were estimated to be only between 100 and 500 North Korean refugees in the area.[15] However, their numbers grew rapidly. In 2003, Sergey Darkin, the Governor of Primorsky Krai, suggested allowing up to 150,000 North Korean refugees in China to settle in Russia, but his plan never came to fruition.[16] In November 2007, Russian law enforcement abducted a North Korean asylum seeker in front of a Federal Migration Service office in Moscow which turned him over to agents of the North Korean special services. The refugee later escaped from a facility in Vladivostok, and intervention by the NGO Civic Assistance and UNHCR prevented his deportation.[17]


  1. ^ ФМС России
  2. ^ a b Lee, Jeanyoung (2006), "Migration, Ethnicity and Citizenship: Ethnic-Korean Returnees in the Russian Far East" (PDF), Asia Culture Forum, Inha University, retrieved 2006-11-23[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Lee Kwang-kyu (2000), Overseas Koreans, Seoul: Jimoondang, pp. 7–15, ISBN 89-88095-18-9
  4. ^ Ishikida, Miki (2005), Toward Peace: War Responsibility, Postwar Compensation, and Peace Movements and Education in Japan, Center for US-Japan Comparative Social Studies, p. 51
  5. ^ Chung, Byoung-sun (2002-08-22), "Sergeyevna Remembers Kim Jong Il", The Chosun Ilbo, archived from the original on 2007-03-11, retrieved 2007-06-01
  6. ^ Sheets, Lawrence (2004-02-12), "A Visit to Kim Jong Il's Russian Birthplace", National Public Radio, retrieved 2007-06-01
  7. ^ Armstrong, Charles K. (May 2005), "Fraternal Socialism: The International Reconstruction of North Korea, 1953–62", Cold War History, 5 (2): 161–87, doi:10.1080/1462740500061160
  8. ^ Lankov, Andrei (2009-10-23), "N. Korean Mirage Collapses in Sakhalin", Korea Times, retrieved 2010-01-08
  9. ^ a b c Devalpo, Alain (2006-04-08), "North Korean slaves", Le Monde Diplomatique, retrieved 2007-06-01
  10. ^ Higgins, Andrew (1994-06-26), "In Siberia's last gulag", The Independent, archived from the original on 2022-06-21, retrieved 2011-12-21
  11. ^ Ostrovsky, Simon (2009-08-26), "N Koreans toiling in Russia's timber camps", BBC News, retrieved 2009-08-28
  12. ^ "Северные корейцы спешно покидают Приморье", Rosbalt News Agency, 2010-11-26, archived from the original on 2010-12-09, retrieved 2011-12-21
  13. ^ Smith, Shane (2011-12-15), "North Korean labor camps in Siberia", CNN News, retrieved 2011-12-21
  14. ^ Kang, Mi-jin (2010-11-22), "Runaway Loggers on the Rise Due to Wage Cuts", Daily NK, retrieved 2011-12-21
  15. ^ "North Korean refugees in Trouble", The Chosun Ilbo, 1999-12-13, archived from the original on 2005-02-09, retrieved 2007-06-01
  16. ^ Brooke, James (2003-12-09), "Slavic loss could turn into gain for Korean refugees: Governor of Russia's Primorye Region has a home in mind for about 150,000 people", New York Times, retrieved 2007-06-01
  17. ^ World Refugee Survey 2008 (PDF), U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, 2008-06-19, archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-22, retrieved 2012-11-15

Further reading