PETALING JAYA: Migrant rights group Tenaganita has censured Putrajaya for its failure to commit Malaysia to an agreement with Cambodia to fight human trafficking.
It said Malaysia, as a destination country for trafficked persons, had become a stumbling block to international efforts to curb human smuggling and the abuse of foreign labour.
“This is not the way forward for states in Asean,” Tenaganita director Glorene Das told FMT. “We are setting a bad example.”
The Cambodian government this week urged Putrajaya to expedite the signing of a memorandum of understanding to ensure the protection of Cambodian workers in Malaysia.
The memorandum has been on hold since 2012. It aims to improve cooperation between the two countries in the fight against human trafficking and exploitation of women and children.
The cooperation would include the exchange of intelligence concerning trafficking routes and networks.
Cambodia’s women’s affairs ministry said Phnom Penh would hesitate to allow maids to be sent to Malaysia until the memorandum was made official.
Das said Tenaganita was especially concerned over Cambodians employed as domestic maids.
She said Cambodia was one of the few countries working towards protecting people from being trafficked.
“Amending and reviewing the Anti-Trafficking In Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act is one step forward, but signing on to the agreement is necessary,” she added.
Tenaganita in 2018 made several recommendations to the government pertaining to efforts to end the exploitation of Cambodian workers. These included a call for improved protection against intolerable living conditions.
Through the years, there have been various reports of the abuse and death of Cambodian workers in Malaysia. There have also been reports of missing children.
Human Rights Watch recorded these cases in a report it published in 2011.
The international body said Cambodian domestic maids in Malaysia risked facing exploitation and serious abuses. It cited non-payment of wages, excessive working hours, forced labour and psychological and physical abuse, including sexual abuse.
“Domestic workers who experience abuse have little opportunity to seek redress either in Malaysia or Cambodia,” it said in its report.
The demand for Cambodian maids in Malaysia sharply increased in 2009 after high-profile cases of abuse of Indonesian maids prompted the Jakarta administration to impose a moratorium on their recruitment in Malaysia.
In 2011, Cambodia imposed a similar moratorium but lifted it in January 2018.