Cambodia, Malaysia to restart domestic help immigration

Oct. 30, 2013 at 1:08 PM
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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Malaysia and Cambodia are working to end Cambodia's moratorium on women leaving for Malaysia to work as domestic help.

Cambodia placed a moratorium on sending domestic workers to Malaysia in October 2011 after allegations in Malaysia of abuse ranging from sexual exploitation to forced labor. Cambodian media have reported more stories of returning women and their families complaining of violence and mistreatment at the end of their two-year contracts.

Officials from the two countries met in Malaysia this week to work out a solution to protect the women from abuses, media in both countries reported.

Malaysia is considering issuing work visas for as many as 1,000 Cambodian women to enter Malaysia each month to work as housemaids to meet local demand, Malaysia's state news agency Bernama reported.

"They'll be sent here once the memorandum of understanding between the Malaysian government and Cambodia is signed in a few months' time," Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said.

"Presently, there are about 30,000 Cambodians working in Malaysia mainly as housemaids," Hamidi said after meeting Cambodia's Ministry of Labor Secretary of State Othsman Hassan Oknha Othman Hassan.

Malaysia will assist Cambodia to improve its passport and work visa processes at Cambodia's three representative and immigration offices in Malaysia.

"We will assist them with training-for-the-trainers' programs for their senior officers who would be based at our immigration department to learn about our international passport system," he said.

The Malaysian government has offered to train Malaysia's senior and middle-ranking police officers to detect and handle allegations of crime and mistreatment toward domestic workers, Bernama reported.

Cambodia's Phnom Penh Post reported that Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Labor Hou Vudthy confirmed his office was exploring what would be involved in sending maids to Malaysia once the two countries -- both members of Association of Southeast Nations -- have signed a memorandum of understanding.

"I can't assure you of a clear date for sending them, but we are working on this," he said.

Vudthy wouldn't confirm how many Cambodian maids would be sent once the two countries signed the document.

Huy Pichsovann, labor program officer at the Community Legal Education Center, said it was dangerous to end the moratorium before the Malaysian government addressed problems faced by Cambodians now working there in domestic service.

"A lot of maids have been forced to extend contracts against their will and the government has done nothing to protect them," he told the Post. "I think it is too early. There's no agreement on mechanisms to protect the rights of the maids."

Rights groups have said a Cambodian maid in Malaysia had committed suicide, another was allegedly raped by her employer and a third tortured, the Post reported in July 2012.

An 18-year Cambodian girl had sought refuge at the Cambodian embassy in Kuala Lumpur after she was rescued from an employer who allegedly raped her, the CLEC said at the time.

A Malaysian court sentenced a couple to 24 years in prison in May for starving their Cambodian maid to death in 2012. Police said the maid weighed less than 60 pounds when they found her body.

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