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A truck packed with migrant workers arrested by Malaysian authorities last week. Photo supplied

Passport fees to be investigated

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has officially instructed the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia to investigate agencies that ask for exorbitant passport renewal fees for workers there, according to a statement released on Friday, though some sources said corruption in the Passport Department itself is part of the problem.

The Post reported late last month that migrant workers in Malaysia were asked to pay fees of almost $1,000 to renew their passports when their old one expired.

“The Ministry has instructed the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia to check on this case: according to the report of the embassy, the workers have direct contact with [agency] Mashita Jaya in Malaysia in order to make a new passport,” the statement reads. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to welcome the announcement by the Ministry of Interior on July 4 which reminds the expense for normal passport service fee.”

The official fees are $100 for a normal passport, and $200 for a same-day passport. But an employee of a Phnom Penh-based travel agency that offers passport renewal services, who requested anonymity for the agency, said the Cambodian government was complicit in the high fees through corruption.

“If the person is in Malaysia, they send the old passport to a relative,” she said. “We go to the officials with the passport.” And while renewing a passport on behalf of another is not officially allowed, she said, “we just find a way to do it”.

“[We do that] at the Passport Department, but we don’t know their names, because . . . normally we never ask the official [for it], they just take the money from us.”

She said this service cost $600. “Unofficially they do it,” she said. “It’s not what the high-ranking officials announce.”

Two staffers of Mashita Jaya, Elvin Lim and a person only known as Mr Po, denied the firm provided any passport services.

“We just provide jobs, we do not do passports here,” Po said, before hanging up on a reporter.

But multiple workers previously confirmed having extended their passports with Mashita Jaya, and two Cambodian workers in Malaysia confirmed this in interviews yesterday.

“We extended through my company, Mashita Jaya. This is the company that currently controls us,” said Serin Ith, a current migrant worker.

And while Ith welcomed the ministry’s move, he said it was too late for him. “We already paid a high price – too high,” Ith said, maintaining he had spent about $700.

Another migrant worker, Po Lo, said and that he extended his passport with the agency in 2016.

Irene Xavier, coordinator of the Committee for Asian Women, pointed to the difficulty of stopping these practices.

“Unless someone takes this very seriously and tracks them down, they will continue,” she said.

Kao Poeun, project coordinator at Informal Democratic Economy Association, said that the Cambodian government had to establish an official mechanism to renew passports.

“The problem is that officially, the Cambodian Embassy cannot make passports there, but unofficially they can make it for them,” he said.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not be reached yesterday.

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