Cambodia's embassy in Kuala Lumpur has played a key role in pressuring domestic workers to stay in the country despite fears for their welfare, rights groups have said.
While a moratorium was placed on sending domestic workers to Malaysia in 2011 amid mounting concerns over abuses, rights groups have told the Post that the Cambodian Embassy has hampered its citizens’ attempts to return home.
Huy Pichsovann, program officer at the Community Legal Education Center, said the embassy has put “a substantial amount of pressure” on domestic workers to stay in Malaysia.
“Based on maids that have returned from Malaysia, many have said that they wanted to return to Cambodia sooner, but the officers working in the Cambodian Embassy played a critical role in strongly pushing them towards renewing their visas,” he said by email.
Glorene Das, program director at Malaysia-based NGO Tenaganita, agreed.
“It’s very clear for us that when girls are referred to us, they could have been abused or raped, they need to be reunited with their families,” she said.
“We refer them to the embassy for shelter . . . and the embassy insists they stay with them. But they do not just provide shelter for the girls, but work with agencies [who say] ‘Why don’t you stay? We’ll pay you more’.”
Das said that while this has not happened in every instance, it has made Tenaganita “uncomfortable” working with the embassy.
“There is a ban on domestic workers [from Cambodia], but the embassy has taken the liberty of renewing [visas].
“[Women] go there for redress, not to be recycled into employment again.”
Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at CLEC, said the embassy was still exploiting a “legal loophole” issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that allows it to renew visas.
“But the renewal of passports opens the door for the renewal of work permits,” he said.
Cambodian Embassy and Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials could not be reached.
The Malaysian National Association of Employment Agencies (PIKAP) works with the embassy to provide visa extension services for domestic workers.
PIKAP president Datuk Raja Zulkepley Dahalan said that to ensure their safety, domestic workers must, among other requirements, have a separate bank account and attend an interview to be eligible for the extension. “It is our commitment to protect the girls,” he said.
But he added that workers who complained could be moved if they had worked for an employer for less than a year.
Dahalan – who also heads the recruitment agency Agensi Pekerjaan Haz Sdn Bhd – said the ban should be lifted.
“We need the girls badly . . . they need money, why must you stop them?”
Dahalan blamed previous abuses on inadequate age checks and training issues. “[They had] no training on how to behave themselves,” he said, adding that NGOs had “exploited” isolated cases of abuse.
Dahalan said the drafted memorandum of understanding to resume the flow of maids is “quite fair”, though Malaysian officials are still waiting for an invite to discussions.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEN DAVID