Within the span of three days, two Cambodian women working as domestic servants in Malaysia died last month while in the custody of their employers, representatives for job recruitment agencies in Phnom Penh revealed yesterday. At least one of the women died under mysterious circumstances while staying at the office of a recruitment agency in Kuala Lumpur.
The deaths are only the latest cases in a recent surge of reports of physical and sexual abuse of Cambodian women recruited to work in Malaysia, and have lead to renewed calls for a freeze on migrant labor from Cambodia until proper protection for migrant workers is in place.
Seng Dani, 22, was found dead on the grounds of a compound next to the Kuala Lumpur office of the Cambodian Labor Supply recruitment agency on the morning of Aug 29, according to a representative of the company, which had sent Ms Dani to Malaysia to work as a maid last July.
Cambodian Labor Supply Manager Touch Sarun said that a local staffer discovered the body of Ms Dani, who was spotted earlier going up to the 8th floor of the agency’s office.
“We cannot say how she died. We are waiting for the Malaysian police investigation,” Mr Sarun said.
He denied that Ms Deni had been trying to flee from being detained in the agency’s office.
“She stayed there like the other staff. She could go and leave as she wanted,” he claimed, adding that the deceased woman had been staying at the agency’s offices since Aug 23 after fleeing from her Malaysian employer.
Mr Sarun then characterized the deceased woman as a troublemaker.
“She tried to do anything to create a problem,” he said.
Mr Sarun said the agency would fly a member of Ms Deni’s family in Oddar Meanchey’s Trapeang Prasat commune to Malaysia to identify her remains and compensate them as required under law following the police report.
Ms Deni’s family could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The Cambodian Labor Supply recruitment agencies sent 649 maids to Malaysia last year, according to recent Ministry of Labor data.
Philimore, one of the biggest agencies with 2,882 recruits sent to Cambodia, said yesterday that it had received a report that one of its maids, Chhay Huth, had died at the home of her Malaysian employer.
Ly Hock Lao, Philimore’s director, said he had been informed that Ms Huth, whose age he did not know, had been found dead on Aug 26, adding that he could not yet discuss possible cause of death.
“This case is now under police investigation,” he said. “We need to do a post-mortem [examination] because she died at her employer’s house.”
Nhen Kim Huoy, director of the Labor Ministry’s department of occupations, said he only knew of Ms Deni’s death, adding that his ministry, the Foreign Affairs ministry and the Cambodian embassy were working on the latest death.
“The girl was sent legally by the agency, so we have to solve the problem by law,” he said, before declining further comment.
Moeun Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center’s labor program, a non-governmental organization, said he doubted Cambodian Labor Supply’s version of event around Ms Deni’s death, as he received regular reports of agencies detaining maids and handing out physical punishment against Cambodian maids at their Malaysian offices.
“The maids feel miserable and turn to the agency for help, but on the contrary they face punishment and detention,” he said.
Mr Tola said the reported cases might not even reflect the true scale of the problems in Malaysia, adding, “My concern is that recently we are not sure of how many people died so far this year.”
In July a maid was found dead at her Malaysian employer’s home, while two women died under suspicious circumstances at a Phnom Penh recruitment agency training center in March.
Mu Sochua, SRP lawmaker and former Minister of Women’s Affairs, expressed shock at the latest incidents involving Cambodian maids and said she suspected that Ms Deni had tried to flee from abuse when she died in Kuala Lumpur.
“This is very, very serious. There has to be a full police investigation in Kuala Lumpur,” she said.
Ms Sochua reiterated her call for a freeze on sending maids to Malaysia until protection safeguards were in place, adding that Cambodia should approach Malaysia for an agreement that outlines legal regulations on Cambodian migrant labor supply to the country.
Indonesia has in the past placed temporary bans on migrant laborers going to Malaysia for similar reasons. The last such ban was lifted in July.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said a freeze was not a good idea “because our poor people need a job to support their family.”
Mr Yeap said the government should take tough action to regulate agencies violating labor rights.
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