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Cambodia's abused workers back home

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A group of maids, fishermen and construction workers repatriated from Malaysia share their stories yesterday at the Phnom Penh headquarters of the NGO CARAM. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

A maid who fled her employer after an attempted rape and was then thrown in a detention centre just two days after she gave birth was one of 26 distressed men and women who make up the latest repatriated abuse victims from Malaysia.

Detained for as long as 18 months, the migrant construction workers, fishermen and maids spoke yesterday of the abuses that led them to flee employment, including attempted rape, beatings, overwork, virtual starvation and withheld wages.

Barely able to speak, 22-year-old Pa Li Sa told a press conference of how she was locked up by Malaysian authorities for four months with her two-day-old baby after she fled an employer whose father had tried to rape her.

“I wanted to either kill myself or file a lawsuit, but no one knew my pain,” she said.

“I told them [police] about my employer, but they did not believe me that his father attempted to rape me, though not successfully,” she said.

Li Sa said she had conceived her now four-month old baby with a Nepali man who she married after fleeing from the employer.

Forty-eight-year-old Em Neng from Kampong Cham province said she languished in a Malaysian detention centre for 18 months after she escaped from an employer who exploitated her when she worked as a maid.

“I worked withou rest. I could sleep a only few hours per day. And I ate only one time per day. Some days, I ate only one package of noodles per day,” she said.

Others spoke of being pushed overboard from a fishing boat because they refused to take drugs to help them work virtually non-stop or of how they were denied wages for an entire year after being promised they could earn US$1,500 per month on a construction site.

The group was repatriated by the Cambodian Embassy with the help of the Ministry of Interior, NGOs Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility (CARAM), Winrock and USAID.

Ya Navuth, executive director of CARAM, said the “huge scale” of the group was due to the fact that they had all been detained together and urged others to learn from their experience.

“We appeal to Cambodian workers to not migrate to work abroad without considering, because there might be dangerous risks such as exploitation and mistreatment,” he said.

In October 2010, the Cambodian government temporaily banned recruitment centres from sending domestic workers to Malaysia because of reported abuses, but a rights group there, Tenaganita, says maids are still coming.

Liva Sreedharan, anti-trafficking program officer at Tenaganita, said yesterday that two more Cambodian maids who were sent to Malaysia in June and July this year, and had fled exploitation, would be repatriated on Thursday from Malaysia.

“There are two girls, one was made to work at the employer’s shop, and she wasn’t getting her wages from the time she was working, and it was the same case with the other girl, so they managed to run away,” she said.

One of the girls said she had been beaten by the actual agency she was working for there, but neither could remember the names of the firms that sent them abroad, Sreedharan said.

An Bunhak, president of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies (ACRA), said he was not aware of any of the association’s members flouting the ban but would take action against any firm doing so.

“If we knew 100 per cent that this agency was a member of ACRA, we would suspend them and we would ask the government to suspend their licence,” he said.

Officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Cambodian Embassy in Kuala Lumpar and Malaysian Embassy in Phnom Penh could not be reached for comment yesterday.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sen David at david.sen@phnompenhpost.com
David Boyle at david.boyle@phnompenhpost.com

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