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ASEAN ministers talk migrants, but no deals

Prime Minister Hun Sen appealed to ASEAN member countries yesterday to formally agree on how to protect the rights of migrant workers as ASEAN moves toward becoming an economic community by 2015.

During his address at the ASEAN labour ministers’ meeting at the Peace Palace, the premier spoke of the importance of a unified approach to migrant workers’ safety – a topic close to Cambodia, because of abuses against maids in Malaysia.

“ASEAN has been working on this problem, but no agreement has been reached that we can implement,” he said.

“All ASEAN member countries should strengthen co-operation to protect migrant workers,” he said.

The comments followed Labour Minister Vong Sauth and his Malaysian counterpart meeting on Wednesday to discuss a memorandum of understanding on maids.

According to Oum Men, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, the two countries are inching closer to reaching such agreement.

“We have an agreement or MoU with Thailand on migrant workers, but not Malaysia,” he said. “Now there is a light at the end of tunnel ... If we cooperate with Malaysia, it is a good sign that we can the protect rights of migrant workers.”

A ban was imposed on sending Cambodian domestic workers to Malaysia in October after numerous cases of abuse.

A press conference scheduled for late yesterday was to shed light on what the ministers had discussed; however, it was postponed until today because discussions were still going.

Ya Navuth, director of NGO CARAM, said differing views existed among ASEAN members about how to protect migrant workers from abuse and exploitation – perhaps explaining why discussions went overtime.

Ya Navuth said ASEAN had reached an agreement on migrant workers in Laos in 2009, but some countries did not want it ratified.

“Receiving countries do not want bilateral agreement because it will lose their benefits,” he said.

“In the name of civil society, I suggest Cambodia as chairman of ASEAN produce legal document on migrant workers,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chhay Channyda at channyda.chhay@phnompenhpost.com

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