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Maid tells of abuse faced in Saudi Arabia

Math Savi hugs her daughter yesterday at Phnom Penh International Airport after returning from Saudi Arabia.
Math Savi hugs her daughter yesterday at Phnom Penh International Airport after returning from Saudi Arabia. Heng Chivoan

Maid tells of abuse faced in Saudi Arabia

After two weeks stuck inside an immigration office in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, a Cambodian domestic worker returned to Phnom Penh yesterday without assistance from the Cambodian government – on a plane ticket she says was paid for by Saudi immigration police.

Math Savi, 28, had worked as a maid in Saudi Arabia for 18 months, suffering alleged abuse at the hands of three separate employers. Her case was profiled in the Post last month, prompting one of the men who recruited her, Ji Nasiat, to arrange her return via a broker in Riyadh.

“We didn’t get information about [this case],” said Chum Sounry, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when contacted yesterday. “If we knew about the information, we could publish it on our website.” He added that for those experiencing problems in Saudi Arabia, the ministry must work through Cambodian embassies in Kuwait or Egypt.

Cambodia does not have a Saudi Arabian embassy. While a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on domestic workers was signed between the two countries in February, it has not been implemented, and recruiting maids to work in the Middle Eastern country remains illegal.

The Ministry of Labour, which signed the agreement, could not be reached for comment yesterday. Spokesman Heng Sour told the Post last month that “safeguards” for women still had yet to be developed.

“If they want to work illegally, it means they have already taken the risk,” government spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday. “When we register the MoU, it will mean that we will have an office to solve the problem.”

Meanwhile, women suffer.

“When I was working there, I felt like I was in prison,” Savi said at the airport yesterday. “I was hit by people in my house, and they always wanted us to work without break. They didn’t respect the promise – to pay $300 per month, to send me on the hajj and to support my daughter and mother.”

Savi was only able to communicate with her family – and the recruiter in Cambodia – via mobile messaging apps. “I am lucky,” she said. “Most people [working in Saudi Arabia] are unable to use social media even to reach their family.”

When she arrived at the immigration office in Riyadh two weeks ago, Savi joined thousands of foreign workers waiting to return home. She was accompanied on her flight by Yaup Aimnas, 32, who had worked for a family in Riyadh for three years. Another Cambodian woman, whose named Savi didn’t know, remained behind in Saudi Arabia; her employer had confiscated her passport.

Some have expressed concern about the lack of direct action from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a country rife with human rights abuses and lacking a Cambodian embassy.

“The ministry doesn’t have any mechanism to protect these citizens,” said Dy Thehoya, a program officer at labour rights group Central. “I don’t understand when their own citizens have problems abroad, they are unwilling to help, or even to pay attention. And it has become a habit.”

For Savi, there is only regret. “I got nothing from working in Saudi Arabia,” she said. “And there are many more women who work [there] who lack the information to get help.”

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