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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Illegal migrant workers await decision in Malaysia

Illegal migrant workers await decision in Malaysia

CAMBODIAN officials said yesterday that four women caught working illegally in Malaysia might be allowed to stay in the country, a decision that a Malaysian official said would contravene immigration laws.

Unt Vantha, second secretary at the Cambodian embassy in Kuala Lumpur, said embassy officials interviewed four women on Monday after they were caught working as domestic aids while staying in the country on a social visit visa.

He said the case – which was originally investigated by the Cambodian Interior Ministry’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department following a complaint filed by the parents of the four women – was not being treated as one of human trafficking because the women reported that they had willingly gone to Malaysia.

“They told us that they are OK,” he said. “They said they work with a kind employer.”

He said it was possible the four women would be allowed to continue working in Malaysia.

“We reported the case to our government, and now we are waiting for instructions from our government [regarding] whether we should send them back or not,” he said.

In the meantime, he said, the four women and their employers would apply for work visas.

Kim Sovanna, deputy director of the Legal Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said yesterday that Cambodian officials needed more information before deciding whether the workers should be sent home or not.

“We always help [migrant workers] through the law when they have a problem, but we don’t know detailed information about [these four women] yet,” he said.

He said officials were investigating and would prosecute the Cambodian broker who allegedly arranged the illegal work placement if she was found to have cheated or trafficked the four women against their will.

Raja Saifful Ridzuwan, minister counsellor at the Malaysian embassy in Phnom Penh, said yesterday that he had not yet received information about the case, but that illegal workers would not normally be allowed to stay in Malaysia.

He said Cambodians could stay in Malaysia for 30 days on a social visit visa, but would be detained and sent to court if caught working without a permit during this time.

“If they were found guilty, they would be deported,” he said. “Some might also be fined, and some might be imprisoned.”

He said that, typically, workers caught overstaying their visas or working on a social visit visa need to leave the country before applying for work permits.

Unt Vantha said he did not have exact figures at hand, but estimated that around 30 Cambodians had been caught working illegally in Malaysia so far this year.

He said the biggest problem with black-market migrant labour was that it put the workers themselves at risk.

“I think it is not good for them that they come to work illegally because they can have many problems. They should come through the government agencies,” he said. “If they come illegally, they can be arrested, and some go to jail. It is also dangerous for them because some employers are bad and they won’t pay illegal employees.”

An Bunhak, chairman of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, said it was “easy” for Cambodians to enter Malaysia on a social visit visa and to work illegally.

He added, though, that it was unwise to do so because it was often “really difficult” for Cambodian officials to help undocumented migrant workers who run into trouble.

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