Rights group Adhoc on Tuesday urged the government to work harder to help Cambodian domestic workers still suffering abuse from their employers in Malaysia or from the Cambodian recruitment agencies that sent them there, including 63 women the organization says have effectively disappeared.
At a press conference in Phnom Penh, Adhoc said 122 women in Malaysia were either missing, unreachable by relatives, working under forced contract extensions, or had unresolved claims of unpaid wages or physical abuse— even as the government prepares to send more.
Prime Minister Hun Sen put an indefinite hold on sending domestic workers to Malaysia in 2011 in response to increasing reports of such abuse. Labor Ministry officials are in negotiations with Malaysia over a memorandum of understanding that would lift the freeze.
On Tuesday, Adhoc president Thun Saray said the Cambodian government was not doing enough to help the women it has already sent.
“We have intervened for the families with the [recruitment] companies and the relevant ministries, especially the Ministry of Labor, to find the missing people, but they have not replied,” he said. “The government should work and cooperate with Malaysian authorities to search for and find these people because they are not animals, they are humans.”
Of the 122 women deemed victims of abuse, Adhoc said that relatives in Cambodia have been unable to contact 29 of them for the past several months. Another 63 have not been reachable for at least a year and are considered to have effectively disappeared, the rights group said.
A Labor Ministry spokesman declined to comment Tuesday. Officials at the Foreign Affairs Ministry have said in the past that they were working with Malaysia to find the missing women.
But Mr. Saray said the government also had to do more to monitor and hold accountable the recruitment agencies in Cambodia that have put domestic workers in harm’s way or failed to secure their full wages.
“Our government has announced that it has suspended the export of migrant [domestic] workers to Malaysia, but they don’t act to monitor the [recruitment] companies,” he said. “This is a big mistake and lets the companies force the workers to keep working in Malaysia.”
An Sreysros, who returned from Malaysia in 2013 and joined Tuesday’s press conference, said she was still waiting for half of the $3,600 she was owed for her last year overseas.
Chea Sreyvurn, who also joined the press conference, said her daughter left for Malaysia in 2010 and was physically abused by her first employer on a regular basis. Although the recruitment agency, Cambodian Labor Supply, transferred her to another home, she said it refused to bring her back home.
Ms. Sreyvurn said the recruiter finally agreed to help her Tuesday, but only after asking for $5 to have the necessary documents translated from Khmer to English.
“I agreed to pay the money because I really want to bring my daughter back home,” she said.
Touch Sarun, a marketing officer for Cambodian Labor Supply, said Ms. Sreyvurn offered the money without being asked and that he used it to have the documents professionally translated.
“She wants to bring her daughter home and I told her that I will send the documents to my colleagues in Malaysia,” he said.
Mr. Sarun said the abuse case against Ms. Sreyvurn daughter’s first employer was still working its way through the Malaysian courts.