Citing Financial Hardship, Cambodians in Malaysia Plead to Return Home

Special to BenarNews
200409-MY-Cambodia620.jpeg Security officers wearing protective face masks check travelers making their way to boarding gates at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Feb. 14, 2020.

About 150 Cambodian migrant workers and students urged their government to allow them to return home from Malaysia where they were left stranded after Prime Minister Hun Sen refused to accept them, citing fears they could be infected with COVID-19.

Sobri Salleh, one of the students, told Radio Free Asia (RFA), a sister entity of BenarNews, that he and the others learned of Hun Sen’s decision on Tuesday as they were prevented from boarding planes to Cambodia at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Members of the group broke down and cried, he said, as many had already spent hundreds of U.S. dollars on their flights and packed up their lives in Malaysia – where authorities have confirmed 4,228 infections and 67 deaths – with the expectation of returning home for good.

“There are students, workers, and tourists – some of whose visas are about to expire,” Sobri Salleh said.

“Many of the workers no longer have jobs [because of the economic impact of the outbreak], so they want to return home. If they can’t go home, they won’t have enough money to meet their needs [in Malaysia].”

Of the 150 Cambodians, about 10 refused to leave the airport until late Tuesday when officials from Cambodia’s embassy met with them and asked them to leave. The embassy did not provide food for them and Sobri Salleh said he spent his own money to ensure everyone had something to eat.

Another student, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFA that she was willing to submit to a two-week quarantine if she is allowed to return home.

“In Malaysia now, there are no jobs – they are only helping their own people,” she said.

RFA spoke with an official at the Cambodian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur who refused to comment about the situation, but the embassy later released a statement saying that the 10 people who refused to leave the airport have been provided temporary shelter until the issue is resolved. The embassy also asked Cambodians in Malaysia to “remain patient.”

Hun Sen on Tuesday had told members of the media in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh that he would not allow the 150 Cambodian nationals to return home from Malaysia because “we don’t know who among them has COVID-19,” referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Dy Thehoya, senior program officer at Cambodian rights group the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, said the government should reconsider banning its citizens from returning to Cambodia, saying that they will face severe hardships if forced to stay in Malaysia.

“How much does the government need to spend to bring them home?” he asked.

“They pay taxes to the government, so when they are in trouble, the government should help them … The government is obligated to protect its citizens. Most governments only ban foreigners [from entering], not their own citizens.”


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