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Family’s bleak vigil ends

It was the grimmest of homecomings yesterday for the family of Ouk Sakan as the body of the 40-year-old domestic worker was repatriated from Malaysia, ending a bleak vigil that began with her death more than four months ago.

Na Rith said his cousin had worked in Malaysia since 2010 through the recruitment agency VC Manpower.

In December, the family filed a complaint with the Ministry of Interior to investigate Ouk Sakan’s death, after the agency told them she had died of a “lung infection” on November 6.

“It’s hard to believe that she died of a lung infection,” Na Rith said yesterday.

“She was healthy before she went to work abroad, otherwise the company wouldn’t have sent her to Malaysia.

“You don’t just die immediately from lung infections,” he said.

Chiv Phally, deputy director of the anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection department, said yesterday that an investigation by Malaysian authorities was consistent with VC Manpower’s conclusion.

Aegile Fernandez, a consultant for the anti-trafficking in persons unit at Tenaganita, an NGO that advocates for migrant workers’ rights, said yesterday that reports of abuse and suspicious deaths like Ouk Sakan’s were nothing new.

Tenaganita had rescued two Cambodian domestic workers on Friday who had been beaten by their Malaysian employer, she said.

“There is still a continuity of abuses by Malaysian employers, and that’s worrisome,” Fernandez said.

Na Rith also derided the length of time it took for his cousin’s body to be repatriated.

“It shouldn’t have taken this long to get the body,” he said.

Moeun Tola, a program officer at the Cambodian Legal Education Centre, agreed.

“It’s too bad. They kept the body for five months, and now it’s too late to do our own examination,” he said.

VC Manpower is no stranger to headlines.

In September, local media outlets reported that its director, Sen Ly, received a 13-month prison sentence for illegally detaining under-age workers.

He was arrested the previous year after several young women escaped from a VC Manpower training facility, reporting that they had been held against their will.

Chhouk Vicheat, deputy chairman of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, confirmed yesterday that VC Manpower had been dropped as a member of ACRA, but declined to provide an explanation for the removal, beyond saying that there were “problems”.

Amid reports of recruitment agency abuse and exploitation of workers, Prime Minister Hun Sen in October issued a ban on sending Cambodian women to work as maids in Malaysia.

Since then, a number of NGOs and rights workers have urged the government to create an MoU with Malaysia to regulate the industry.

ACRA official Sok Chanpeakdey confirmed yesterday that Ministry of Labour officials had “recently” met with Malaysian authorities and ACRA officials to discuss contracts for domestic workers, but failed to provide more specifics about a potential MoU.

Representatives from Malaysia and VC Manpower could not be reached for comment yesterday.

WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KRISTIN LYNCH

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