As Cambodia continues to consider inking a deal to ship workers to Saudi Arabia, seven migrants have already fled notoriously poor labour conditions in the Middle Eastern nation.
The workers were enlisted by a private construction company in Jeddah, according to the Thai Embassy in Saudi Arabia, which is assisting the men in the absence of a Cambodian diplomatic presence in the county.
“They came to the embassy on August 18 because they did not know where else to go for help,” said an embassy official who declined to provide his name. “Their employer had delayed their salary for two months.”
The men told the embassy that they wanted to return home because the work was “too heavy”, according to the official, who added that the seven had all been legally employed in Saudi Arabia, with the proper visa and work permit.
The Cambodian Ministry of Labour has repeatedly said that it has not yet dotted all the i’s in a pending memorandum of understanding to send workers to Saudi Arabia. Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng said in May that the agreement would be signed “as soon as possible” following an examination of conditions in the host country.
“Until now, there is no recruitment firm licensed to send workers to Saudi Arabia … but workers can still go on their own by contacting an employer directly,” said An Bunhak, director of Top Manpower Co Ltd.
Saudi Arabia has repeatedly come under fire for a spate of abuse scandals involving foreign workers. In 2011, Indonesia placed a moratorium on sending domestic workers to the country after the beheading of a maid found guilty of killing her abusive employer.
With Cambodia already seeing victims from the country come home, Am Sam Ath, senior monitor of the rights group Licadho, urged the government “to reconsider sending workers to the country.”
The seven Cambodians currently staying at the Thai Embassy are set to be repatriated on Wednesday.
“Due to the Thai embassy’s intervention, the employer paid their wages and paid for their airfare home,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said in a statement yesterday.
Kuong added that six Cambodians trafficked as brides to China were also set to return the same day on flights paid for by an international organisation.
A total of 15 women currently remain in China awaiting flights, several of whom were informed by Chinese officials that they could not leave before obtaining a divorce from their forcibly wedded husbands, rights monitor Adhoc said.
“The women were told this is Chinese law,” said Adhoc’s Chhan Sokunthear, adding that she didn’t know why the regulation was selectively applied.
In the last month, six Cambodian brides have returned from China after intervention from aid groups and benefactors.