Cambodia Signs Maid Deal With Saudi Arabia

Cambodia has signed agreements with Saudi Arabia setting up negotiations to work out the fi­nal details of a deal that will reopen legal channels for Cam­bo­dians to find jobs in the Middle East­ern country, where employers are often accused of abusing mi­grant workers.

Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng was in Riyadh on Thursday to sign two memoranda—one spe­cifically for maids and another for all other workers—with his Saudi counterpart, Mufrej Al-Haqbani, ac­cording to a statement issued by Cambodia’s Labor Ministry on Friday.

“The agreements are important to protect the rights and interests of Khmer migrant workers, and the two sides are required to prepare a management system for em­ployment recruiters and for re­patriation of the migrant workers in accordance with the law,” it says.

The statement added that the two parties will set up a joint commission to figure out exactly how to implement the deal, offering no time­frame or details regarding Cam­bodia’s exact goals.

The memoranda themselves were not released. Seng Sakada, who heads the Labor Ministry’s la­bor department, declined to comment.

Human Rights Watch has re­leased reports on what it calls the “rampant” abuse of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, including forced labor and exploitative con­ditions. In November, it said re­cent Saudi labor reforms could help curb the abuse but warned that con­ditions for domestic work­ers would remain the same.

As for the new memoranda, Saudi Arabia and Cambodia were at a similar point in negotiations six years ago.

In 2010, the two countries were poised to sign a memorandum of understanding that would have cleared the way for Cambodia to send 5,000 maids to Saudi Arabia per month.

At the time, the Cambodian La­bor Ministry said the two sides had agreed to use the ministry’s own clinic to screen workers be­fore they left the country and were also still searching for a bank to han­dle remittances. Though the deal never materialized, a trickle of Cam­bodian workers has continued to reach Saudi Arabia through un­official channels.

In 2005, Cambodia sent 34 wom­en to the country as part of an official pilot program but soon ended the arrangement because it lacked a diplomatic presence in the region that could keep track of the workers, according to the International La­bor Organization.

A Labor Ministry official at the time said Cambodian recruitment agencies were ordered to stop sending workers over fears that re­ports of migrant laborers in Saudi Arabia having their arms and legs cut off might be true.

Cambodia has since opened an em­bassy in neighboring Kuwait.

Remittances from the hundreds of thousands of Cambo­dians who go abroad for work are a vital economic boost to the coun­try’s rural communities, but rights groups accuse the government of not doing enough to protect them.

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