Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Cambodian Female Workers in Saudi Arabia Beg To Return Home Soon, Need To Find Jobs, Income

A group of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia go live on Facebook on May 20, 2024, calling for the government of Cambodia to expedite their departure for home.
A group of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia go live on Facebook on May 20, 2024, calling for the government of Cambodia to expedite their departure for home.

The remaining female workers in Saudi Arabia posted a video on Facebook on May 20 urging the Cambodian government to speed up the process to bring them home after waiting for a month. 

In April, the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training said it would cooperate with the Cambodian embassy in Egypt to rescue and repatriate 78 people who were allegedly forced to work long hours and with little food in Saudi Arabia.

The workers went to work in Saudi Arabia through Cambodian firm Fatina Manpower Co Ltd. Now there are 28 workers who are still in Saudi Arabia. 

One of the women said they posted a video on social media asking for assistance since April 18, and it went viral. Minister of Labor and Vocational Training Heng Sour also took action immediately to transfer them to a safe place. The women are now in a safe place with adequate food, but they cannot wait to come home. 

Some workers have returned to Cambodia except her group of about 28 workers, who were supposed to fly back on April 19, but until May 20 still await their departure, she said, adding that they have completed all the documents.  

“I want to ask the company in Cambodia to explain why I haven’t returned to Cambodia yet. Even though we have enough to eat here, it is very difficult because we cannot go anywhere. Please Prime Minister Hun Manet, please help us.”

‘I might have a mental breakdown’ 

The women also asked for Hun Manet’s intervention to return home as they need to start looking for jobs to support their families.  

Another woman said, “I do not know how to solve this problem. Please, Samdech Hun Sen and Samdech Hun Manet, help bring us back. Please take me back as soon as possible because it has been a month.” 

“We are poor, we owe the bank. We have children. It’s very difficult for me. I am still here, and my family is in need,” one woman said.

Phle Somaly, 30, who claimed she was a victim of labor issues in Saudi Arabia, told CamboJA News that from April 19 to date, the company has not had a real solution. She added that she cannot even get out of the room.

“We cannot trust the ministry or the embassy as they do not have a specific plan, not even the company,” she said. 

Being a single mom, she wants the repatriation process sped up because she needs to look after her one-year-old son and elderly mother in their hometown. She also owed a private bank $5,000 and has only paid $1,000 so far.

“What we want is to go back to Cambodia because we can no longer stay here. The reason is because we owe the bank, we have no money, no milk for our children. Their health is deteriorating while we get to have two meals.” 

“If I stayed, I would probably have a mental breakdown because I am [stuck] in a room,” said Somaly.

In the meantime, she explained that the current issue was Fatina Manpower allegedly accusing Arab companies of not issuing visas to workers. But the Arab companies say they have resolved the visas and are waiting to be paid.

The companies’ endless accusations are causing a delay in the settlement, she said.

‘Some are impatient’

According to labor ministry spokesperson Kata Orn, 97 migrant workers went to Saudi Arabia. About 52 workers have returned to Cambodia and 45 are waiting to be repatriated. 

The ministry was working with relevant parties including the Cambodian embassy to ensure that workers return to Cambodia but the problem is each country has different procedures.

For example, Saudi Arabia is going to have to meet the conditions of entry, which is a problem they faced. Therefore, there needs to be proper coordination and cooperation between the countries.

Regarding the company which sent the workers, Orn told CamboJA News that investigations will close soon and if the company had violated the law, legal action will be taken against it.

Some workers, he said, have been patient while large issues were being sorted, but a small group have been impatient and taken to posting videos on Facebook.

“Doing this is freedom [of expression], but if the posts affect both countries or cause other problems, it [repatriation] might be delayed, so we always ask them to cooperate with the [Cambodian] embassy,” he said.

‘Ready to cooperate in investigations’

Meanwhile, Cambodian firm Fatina Manpower said the current settlement is being coordinated by the Cambodian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Cambodia’s labor ministry and the relevant ministries of Saudi Arabia.

“Previous labor disputes were resolved in stages according to the procedures of the respective ministries in the relevant country with the participation of the ambassador,” the company told CamboJA News via social messaging app Messenger.

“According to the ambassador, all workers may complete the settlement procedure soon,” it said, adding that the company has been cooperating with the embassy and is monitoring the situation regularly. 

The company did not respond to a question on how it would deal with the workers’ issue but said it would cooperate with the ministry if there is an official investigation. 

Sam Ath opined that workers are trying different approaches in order to come home, which include videos post as what they have been doing so far.

He said the government has a repatriation procedure and is cooperating with Saudi Arabia, so the procedure is lengthy.

“As civil society organizations, we continue to urge the government to review the situation and look at the companies which possess licenses to bring workers abroad to ensure they monitor workers’ safety and proper health checks in the workplace,” he added. 

Sam Ath opined that the only thing that victims want is rescue. Workers always think about their own safety and want to come home.

“What’s important is to resolve the [repatriation] procedure between the two countries so that they can return as soon as possible. That would be a good thing,” he said.

Sam Ath pointed out that there are no studies in Cambodia on how labor rights violations affect the mental health of workers because it can cause serious psychological trauma.