Photo shows the entry point of a coal mine in Sri Aman, Sarawak. The mine had stopped its operations after the miners, mostly from North Korea, had returned to their country. Pix by Adib Povera

SRI AMAN: All North Koreans working and staying in the state with or without valid documents have returned to their home country.

This was confirmed by State Immigration Department director Ken Leben today.

“There are no more North Koreans in Sarawak,” he told the New Straits Times via the WhatsApp mobile messaging application.

Ken, however, did not elaborate on the actual number of foreigners from North Korea who had previously stayed in the country.

Sarawak is the only state in the country which employed North Korean workers, who were categorised as non-resident workers. Their employment is governed by the Sarawak Labour Ordinance.

It was previously reported that there were 170 North Koreans employed as specialised workers in the coal mining and heavy construction sectors in Sri Aman, Mukah, Bintulu and Lawas.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Abdul Rahman Zohari Abang Openg had confirmed that only 36 of the foreigners from the communist country were staying and working in Sarawak with valid documents.

The remaining North Koreans were found to have stayed in Sarawak with expired working permits and they were categorised as "missing" in the state.

Following such discovery, the Immigration Department in April launched the 3 plus 1 programme compelling employers to surrender their foreign workers from North Korea who had stayed in the state illegally.

Under the programme, employers and the North Koreans with expired work permit were liable for a lower compound compared to the Immigration Act.

According to sources, all North Koreans who were previously categorised as “missing” had surrendered to the Immigration Department under the 3 plus 1 programme.

It was learnt that the foreigners had been deported to their home country in six batches beginning April 29.

The presence of North Korea workers in the state made news headlines following an explosion at the Silantek coal mine in Pantu near here on Nov 22, 2014.

Four foreign workers including a 29-year-old North Korean man identified as Pang Ching Nyok, 29, were killed during the 9am incident.

More than 30 workers, who were among 119 foreign workers employed at the coal mine, were injured during the explosion.

A total of 46 foreign workers employed as miners were from North Korea.

Checks by the New Straits Times today, however, showed the coal mine had stopped operating after the miners, mostly from North Korea, had returned to their country.

Manned by a security guard from Bangladesh, the coal mine, which has become a private property, is off-limits to the public.