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Maid deaths hit nerve in KL

A Malaysia parliamentarian has lashed out at his own government and police for their “callous approach” in failing to take proper action in response to the deaths of nine Cambodian domestic workers in their country this year.

Charles Santiago, a  member of the opposition Democratic Action Party, said yesterday his government and police  had “totally disrespected” its own laws by conducting, at best, only cursory investigations into the deaths and generally failing to properly regulate the industry.

“This is not acceptable. It is too much, given that these migrant workers are coming to work in Malaysia, and it’s just not acceptable that they go back in body bags,” Santiago said.

He vowed to use a sitting of parliament next week to push his government to pursue a “much more humane” approach to migrant domestic workers following Cambodia’s decision to temporarily ban labour firms from sending them to Malaysia.

“Even one death is too many, so there is no reason why a migrant worker comes to Malaysia and dies in a home,” he said, adding the problem needed an urgent solution and was creating perceptions Malaysia was irresponsible and unsympathetic to guest  workers.

Last month, the Cambodian government temporarily shut down the Malaysian operations of all domestic labour firms in response to a string of rape, exploitation, death, forced detention and under-age recruitment scandals in both countries, a ban several agencies subsequently flouted.

An under-secretary of state at Malaysia’s Ministry of Human Resources declined to comment yesterday.

Datuk Alias Ahmad, director-general of the immigration department, said Santiago’s criticisms fell outside his area of responsibility.

In July, Cambodian domestic worker Choy Pich, 19, was found to have died in Malaysia from pneumonia, a claim her family rejected.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs vowed to investigate allegations that her employer had beaten her before she died, then dumped her body outside his house.

On Wednesday, opposition Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua said officials from the Cambodian embassy in Malaysia had told her that nine domestic workers had died there this year .

Muhammad Sha’Ani Bin Abdullah, a commissioner at the government’s independent statutory monitoring body, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, said he would now take case files and investigate each death.

“We were surprised that there were a number of reports recorded related to Cambodian maids, which were previously denied by the police,” he said.

Political profiteering from the industry likely explained the Malaysian government’s reluctance to make genuine efforts to tackle rampant exploitation and abuse in the industry, he added.

“Probably conflict of interest is involved in this labour supply – politic-ians involved in the supply of labour agencies,” he said, adding that Cambodia needed to clean up its own end of the industry and apply strong pressure on Malaysia to sign a bilateral agreement properly regulating the sector.  

Hou Vudthy, deputy director-general at the Ministry of Labour, declined to comment yesterday, but said he would address the issues plaguing the migrant domestic labour industry during a radio broadcast on Monday.  

Mu Sochua, who is in Malaysia lobbying for reforms to the industry, said she felt progress was finally being made. “I feel that this time, we are knocking on the right door.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA

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