Embassy in Malaysia Lacks Funds to Send Workers Home

An official at the Cambodian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur said on Monday that with more Cambodians seeking support and refuge amid a labor crackdown by Malaysian authorities, the embassy’s budget was not enough to pay to bring them home.

“It is chaotic because they don’t even have any money to support themselves,” said Nou Bunnara, the embassy’s councilor for labor affairs.

Some workers had been cheated by brokers at the border and did not possess any legal documents, he added. “It is hard to help,” he said.

Mr. Bunnara said the embassy had now appealed for support from NGOs in Malaysia to repatriate the workers.

“We can’t afford the whole cost. It is a lot, like airfare, food and other local transportation costs,” he said.
“So we are looking to work with NGOs to support us in order to repatriate the workers,” Mr. Bunnara said.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said he did not know how much money was needed to repatriate the Cambodians currently sheltered at the embassy, and declined to discuss further details, saying he did not have more information.

The ministry said in a statement on Friday that about 30 Cambodian nationals had been seeking refuge at the embassy, while another 79 were arrested in Malaysia this month amid the crackdown on unregistered workers.

Mr. Bunnara, the embassy official, said yesterday that more Cambodians had sought refuge at the embassy since last week.

The official, who requested at the end of the interview that official information be sought from Mr. Sounry and that he not be named, added that the Malaysian government had told the embassy it was expediting investigations, and it would be entirely up to Malaysia whether the arrested workers would be deported or sent to court.

The employers in Malaysia, who had been given months to process documents for their migrant workers, were as much to blame as the workers, Mr. Bunnara said. The workers did not allow time for filling out the documents or gathering their finances, while “their bosses refuse to process the paperwork, like those of the rehiring and work permit,” he said, referring to Malaysia’s “rehiring program,” which was aimed at legalizing undocumented migrant workers already employed in the country.

The deadline for the program was June 30. According to local media reports, just 161,000 of 600,000 illegal migrants had submitted the appropriate paperwork, and as many as 3,300 have been arrested in this month’s operations.

Adrian Pereira, executive director for Malaysian rights organization North South Initiative, said his NGO and its network had been working with the Cambodian Embassy and were helping finance some Cambodians’ trips home.

Some workers have been saved from trafficking, as well as arrest and detention, he said.

“There was an undocumented Cambodian lady who just gave birth, so Immigration was trying to detain her [at the hospital]…but we managed to negotiate for her a safe passage home,” he said, explaining that Malaysian hospitals are required to alert the Immigration Department when undocumented migrants receive treatment.

Joseph Paul, program officer at Malaysian rights group Tenaganita, said he had been in contact with four Cambodian migrant workers this month, but had yet to locate two of them.

“What happens is, they get our number and call us, and quite often they don’t know where they are,” he said. “We have to find out where they are.”

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