PHNOM PENH: Two Cambodian maids released from the Juru detention depot in Penang, Malaysia, have alleged torture of detainees by depot staff.
One of them claimed she knew of at least three detainees who shared the same block with her dying of injuries from beatings.
The Cambodia Daily reported that the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia had been ordered to investigate the allegations and to find out if any more of its citizens were in Juru.
The report said the allegations had arisen just as Cambodia and Malaysia had agreed on reopening the flow of Cambodian maids to Malaysia.
Five years ago Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen stopped the sending of maids to Malaysia following numerous allegations of maid abuse by Malaysian recruitment agencies and Malaysian households. However, some women had gone to Malaysia illegally to find work.
The Cambodia Daily report said the two nations had worked out a deal to send maids to Malaysia but that the Cambodian Government had refused to offer details or release a copy of the memorandum of understanding that it had signed with Malaysia in December.
The report said two women were repatriated from Malaysia in mid-June by Cambodian labour rights organisation Central, which paid for their flights home.
According to the report, one of the women had said she had been working as a domestic maid in Malaysia for nearly two years when she was arrested in January, after fleeing the physical abuse of her last employer.
She was sent to Juru. “At the prison, I was beaten and kicked for not understanding the prison officers well,” she was quoted as saying by Cambodia Daily.
She claimed because she knew a little Malay and English she had escaped more torture as she was useful to the depot staff for translation work.
“Others, like the Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian and Laotian prisoners, were badly tortured,” she claimed.
“They were pushed hard against the wall or had their heads knocked against the wall. There was an officer called Ma Pon who always punched and kicked us.”
“I witnessed two Cambodians and a Vietnamese girl die at the prison after they were repeatedly hit, kicked and punched in the face and chest. The three were badly tortured and I found them dead the next morning since we slept in the same block,” she was quoted as saying.
“When I woke up, I tried to wake them, but they were already dead.”
She said depot staff had also asked her to accompany other detainees sent to a local hospital for treatment so that she could translate, and that she saw four more women die there — three Cambodians and one Vietnamese.
“So I witnessed five Cambodians and two Vietnamese die,” she claimed.
“The torture happened because prisoners didn’t speak Malaysian (sic), so we didn’t understand them,” she added.
Central picked her up at the Phnom Penh International Airport in June along with another woman released from Juru at the same time. The second woman reportedly corroborated the allegation of physical abuse at the Juru depot.
The report said Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry had last Thursday said that the ministry had instructed the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia to investigate.
The Cambodia Daily quoted Aegile Fernandez of the Malaysian NGO Tenaganita as saying: “Migrant workers, refugees, stateless persons and migrants who are waiting to be deported will be placed in the detention centres. They are overcrowded, have little food given and minimum medical attention and of course abuses and rights violations.”
James Nayagam, who previously served on the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, is quoted as saying: “Juru is the worst and [most] deplorable detention camp ever—not suitable for human beings.” Nayagam added that he had made reports of this to the Malaysian Government.
Central director Moeun Tola said: “Cambodia should set up [an] effective monitor mechanism to inspect the conditions of those Cambodians who work in Malaysia and provide adequate assistance to them. The recruitment agents should be seriously and transparently pressured to secure the respect of workers and maids they send or deploy in Malaysia.”