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Gov’t to assist Cambodians in need during Malaysia state of emergency

Taing Rinith / Khmer Times Share:
File photo of Cambodian migrant workers and students waiting to catch their flight from Kuala Lumpur to Phnom Penh in July 2020. Royal Embassy of Cambodia to Malaysia

The government will provide assistance to any Cambodian migrant worker who needs help during a state of emergency imposed by Malaysia to contain the spread of COVID-19.

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Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday: “When our migrant workers need our help, we will step in to help them.”

However, he did not provide any specifics.

His comment comes as NGOs in the Kingdom urged the government to provide assistance to Cambodian migrant workers following the declaration of the state of emergency by Malaysia yesterday.

Malaysia’s King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah’s proclamation on the state of emergency yesterday morning came amid an alarming rise of COVID-19 cases, which by yesterday saw the number of positive cases surpassing 13,000 and 555 death with its healthcare system at breaking point.

One day prior, the Malaysian government announced the tightening of COVID-19 restrictions, placing five states and three federal territories under the Movement Control Order (MCO) again for two weeks.

It is also reported that the state of emergency will last until August or earlier, depending on the COVID-19 situation in the country.

In an interview with Khmer Times, Moeun Tola, executive director of the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights, said this is the most critical time than ever for migrant workers in Malaysia, which for months now has suffered from a surge of coronavirus.

“Many of the Cambodian workers in Malaysia have been suffering from financial problems as they have been laid off by their employers due to the economic crisis,” Tola said.

He added some of them even have started living on the street as they can no longer afford the rent and not allowed to stay in dormitories provided by their former employers.

“Now, that the Malaysian government has put the country in a state of emergency, it is going to get worse for our workers, especially since they cannot return home due to the Cambodian government’s ban on flights from Malaysia,” he added.

According to the Ministry of Labour, there are currently 25,149 Cambodians living and working in Malaysia.

As companies slash salaries and employment to deal with the economic shock of the pandemic, thousands of low-wage and low-skilled migrant workers in Malaysia have been among the most vulnerable. The International Labor Organization (ILO) said in a report that there were cases of migrant workers being unfairly terminated or not getting paid when Malaysia’s nationwide coronavirus lockdown was first imposed in March.

The ILO also said that most Malaysian government support measures don’t cover migrant workers, and trade unions and other organisations have stepped in to help the migrant workers, including by distributing food and providing shelter to them.

Meanwhile, flights originating from Malaysia have been banned from landing in Cambodia since July 2020.

Tola suggested the government provides emergency assistance to the Cambodian migrant workers so that they can survive during this hard time.

“First of all, the Cambodian government, through its embassy in Malaysia, should provide food supplies and other necessities to the Cambodian migrant workers who are out of job,” he said. “Secondly, the embassy should help the workers negotiate wwith their landlord to lower the rent for their accommodation, which is crucial during this time.”

Tola added that although to arrange for the repatriation of the jobless Cambodian migrant workers could be the best solution, it is unlikely to happen now due to travel restrictions imposed by both Cambodia and Malaysia.

“The best alternative is for Cambodia’s embassy to ask the Malaysian government to include its migrant workers into the Malaysian government’s stimulus package programme,” he added.

Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour said that for now, the government is not planning to repatriate Cambodian migrant workers from Malaysia.

“We have a clear principle as the pandemic situation at this stage is not favourable for us,” he said. “Therefore, I would like to ask our Cambodian people there to be patient, keep calm, practise good hygiene and follow the preventive measures imposed by the Malaysian government.”

When asked about what the Cambodian embassy can do to help the migrant workers in Malaysia, Sour had referred the question to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia could not be reached for comment on the issues.

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