KUCHING - The Sarawak Immigration Department is rounding up 140 North Koreans in Sarawak whose work permits have expired, said Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg.
The state government, he said, was waiting for instructions from Putrajaya on whether they would be deported in view of the diplomatic stand-off between Malaysia and North Korea, with both countries having banned each other's citizens from leaving.
"We have over 170 North Koreans here. Some of them are here illegally as their permits have expired.
"The issue is now being handled by the Sarawak Immigration Department.
"The question is whether we can deport them or not. Deportation has to be done because they are illegals but with the current diplomatic problem, we have to get clearance from the Federal Government," he told reporters at his office in Wisma Bapa Malaysia here yesterday.
Abang Johari said those with expired permits were employed by private companies in construction and coal mining.
The illegals included 37 construction workers who were detained at a project site in Kuala Tatau near Bintulu on Tuesday for abusing their social visit passes and overstaying.
It was reported that the North Korean workers were arrested in a joint operation by the Immigration Department, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and the Marine Police.
The Chief Minister said there were 36 North Koreans with valid permits who were still being employed in the state.
These North Koreans, he added, were taken in for their expertise in construction, mining and hydropower.
"They were engaged before this controversy began," said Abang Johari.
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