Malaysian authorities are treating the deaths of two Cambodian domestic servants in Malaysia as two unrelated cases of suicide, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday.
A labor rights worker and an opposition member of Parliament said there should be a full investigation into the deaths, adding that in the case of suicide, it should be established if mistreatment by employers had lead to despair and the desperate acts.
On Wednesday, two Cambodian labor recruitment firms revealed that Seng Dani, 22, and Chhay Huth, whose age is still unknown, were found dead on Aug 29 and Aug 26, respectively.
One of the firms, Cambodian Labor Supply, said Ms Dani was found dead on the ground floor of a compound next to its Kuala Lumpur office, while the Philimore agency said Ms Huth had died at her Malaysian employer’s house.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday that the Cambodian Embassy had received preliminary reports from Malaysian authorities stating: “Ms Dani committed suicide by jumping off the building. Chhay Huth committed suicide by taking poison on Aug 25 and died at her employers house.”
“The Cambodian Embassy is doing more investigation into the causes of the deaths,” Mr Kuong said, adding that officials had no further information on the cases at the moment.
A family member of Ms Dani questioned the Malaysian authorities’ account of her death.
“I don’t believe my niece committed suicide, I think it was a murder,” said Mei Sareth, the victim’s aunt, adding that the Cambodian Labor Supply firm is paying for her ticket to travel to Malaysia to identify Ms Dani’s remains.
Ms Sareth said that her niece left Cambodia in July 2010 and had never contacted her family or sent any money home since. Concerned by the long silence, Ms Sareth said family members had inquired with the agency about Ms Dani’s fate in mid-August, and were informed on Sep 3 that she was dead.
Mu Sochua, SRP lawmaker and former Minister of Women’s Affairs, said the Cambodian Embassy should get to the bottom of the deaths, adding that the alleged suicides threw up many questions about the recruitment agencies’ care for the well-being of their workers overseas.
Ms Sochua said the agencies often treated their workers like a commodity to be supplied for profit, while abuse and mistreatment by agency staff or Malaysian employers went unaddressed.
“Did the employers have any signs that the workers had signs of depression?” Ms Sochua asked.
Tenaganita, a Malaysian human rights NGO, said last month it had rescued 54 Cambodian women in Malaysia in 2011, all of whom “showed clinical signs of anxiety and depression,” after suffering from physical and sexual abuse and exhaustion, or had their passports taken away and their salaries withheld.
Cambodian labor migration has risen sharply in recent years, with 30,000 Cambodian women now working as maids in Malaysia.
Ms Sochua also questioned the Malaysian authorities preliminary investigation findings, adding, “Malaysia has its own reputation to protect, will it reveal the full truth? I don’t think so.”
Ms Sochua reiterated her call for a freeze on migrant labor to Malaysia until Cambodia negotiates an agreement with Kuala Lumpur that establishes legal protection for its overseas workers.
The Malaysian Embassy could not immediately be reached for comment.
Moeun Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center’s labor program, said there should be a thorough investigation by the embassy.
“What is the cause, what makes them suicidal?” he said. “Is it because of mental pressure or detention?”
Mr Tola said he supported a freeze on sending maids to Malaysia until Cambodia agrees with authorities there on protective measures for Cambodian workers.
“Everybody acknowledges that these [abuse] issues are happening, so why won’t Cambodia talk seriously with Malaysia to ensure that the problem is fixed before more maids are sent?” he asked.
An Bunhak, founder of the Top Manpower Co Ltd labor recruitment firm and president of the Cambodian Association for Recruitment Agencies, said that it was “not time for an MoU” with Malaysia.
An Bunhak said that he first wanted to see how Indonesia’s labor migration agreement with Malaysia, established in July this year, would work out, before Cambodia negotiated an agreement. Amid similar abuse incidents, Indonesia banned sending its citizens to work in Malaysia until an agreement was reached with Kuala Lumpur on protecting Indonesian maids.
Mr Kuong, from the Foreign Affairs ministry, said he did not know if the government was considering negotiating such an agreement with Malaysia.