PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Promises of well-paying jobs in Malaysia turned into a nightmare for four young men repatriated from the country last week with help from rights group Adhoc. The four – who range from 18 to 24 years old – had been sold to a plantation owner who paid them a fraction of the salary promised by their broker before they left Cambodia, they said.
The job itself was also hazardous – they were put to work spraying toxic pesticides at the palm-oil plantation. Working up to 10 hours a day seven days a week, they were paid as little as $25 a month, the young men said.
One of fthe our told Khmer Times he had been promised $250 a month, but during the five months he worked as a pesticide sprayer he received between $25 and $30 per month.
“The broker sold us to the company and he took a cut of our salary,” he explained.
The four young men were repatriated after their families brought their plight to the attention of Adhoc. It then worked with the Foreign Affairs Ministry and Malaysian rights group Tenaganita to repatriate the young men. Adhoc requested that they not be identified by name.
“There are a lot of cases like this one,” said Lim Mony, deputy head of Adhoc’s women’s and children’s rights program.
The broker’s fee was deducted from their salaries, Ms. Mony explained.
The four young men were from villages in Kampong Thom province’s Baray district. The broker is from a village in Kampong Cham province on the border with Baray district. He has been identified as “Rath,” a 38-year-old man from Popreng village in Chamkar Leu district’s Spueu commune. He has been arrested, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The father of one of the young men said he deeply regrets allowing his son, one of five children in the family, to work in Malaysia.
“I felt so sad when my son called me and told me he was getting sick from the pesticides, working long hours and getting such a low salary,” he said.
The son said poverty drove him to jump at the offer. “I need money to repay family debts. When I heard someone offering a high salary to anyone who would work I didn’t think twice about the job,” he explained.
Poverty makes Cambodians easy victims of trafficking, Ms. Mony said. “There are not enough jobs here and the salaries are very low. This is why people work abroad illegally,” she explained.
“It is very easy to deceive them. Most migrant workers are deceived,” she said.
Another of the repatriated victims urged the government to increase its efforts to locate other Cambodians sold by the broker. He said two other young Cambodians were working on the plantation while he was there. They disappeared. “It is likely they were sold to another boss,” he said.
“They told me they want to come home, but they did not have enough money to return. How can I help them? I have no way of contacting them,” he said.
“I would like to request that the government and NGOs do more to help them return home,” he told Khmer Times.
He and the other three men were repatriated after their families sought assistance from Adhoc, which brought the case to the attention of the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Together they worked with Tenaganita in Malaysia to repatriate the young men.
Off the Radar
Chum Sonry, a spokesman for the ministry, said it is difficult to help Cambodians working illegally in other countries because they cannot be traced.
They can, however, contact the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia for help, he said.
“It difficult to prevent them from working illegally overseas,” Mr. Sonry said. In most cases the brokers do not get them work visas. Sometimes they are taken to a transit country before being delivered to their employers in a third country. This makes it very difficult to track them, Mr. Sonry explained.
The four young men repatriated last week were taken overland to Thailand through the border crossing at Poipet before being transported to the plantation in Malaysia.
“Do not trust brokers,” Mr. Sonry said. “Do not work in other countries without work permits.”