The number of workers and maids rescued from Malaysia has more than tripled in the year since the government lifted a ban on the practice of sending Cambodian domestic workers there.
In a document obtained yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that the embassy in Malaysia had intervened to repatriate 198 Cambodian citizens in 2016, compared to just 55 last year, and 34 in 2014.
In December of last year, the government and Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding lifting a ban on domestic workers migrating to Malaysia imposed in 2011 in the wake of reports of severe abuses, including deaths.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Chum Sounry said most of those repatriated this year were also domestic workers, who had sought out the embassy for help as they faced “difficulties in their work”.
“They said the work is very difficult for them because of the conditions,” he said.
Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour did not respond to requests for comment yesterday, but in June, he defended the MoU, saying it would make it easier to assist abused workers and provide them legal recourse.
Also in June, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to accept more workers from the Kingdom.
For Moeun Tola, head of labour rights NGO Central, the spike in rescues from Malaysia this year are a clear indication that the ban should never have been lifted.
“The fact that the number of rescued maids has increased is showing that the issue of . . . the abuse of the maids still exists,” he said, adding it could also signal that the Cambodian Embassy was swifter to act in those cases.
He urged the government to not only address the rescue of victims, but to work to prevent abuses in the first place.
Tola said that domestic workers he had spoken with reported an array of abuses – 20-hour working days, starvation, verbal assault and physical violence.
“Rape is still happening, torture is still happening, and they are not allowed to be connected with their families,” he said. “You can imagine the psychological effect. When you are being abused and cannot tell anyone about your condition, then you become more traumatised.”
He added that the MoU was weak and lacked transparency. The Labour Ministry has repeatedly refused to provide a copy of the agreement to the Post. A total of 524 people were repatriated from abroad this year, including 59 from China, the majority of whom were trafficked as brides.
One person was repatriated from Saudi Arabia, where a controversial pipeline for migrant domestic workers was opened in February this year.