Thirteen years ago, two men came to Eng Pov’s village in Tbong Khmum province and knocked on her door. Pov, then either 20 or 21, doesn’t remember their names. All she remembers is their offer: to work as a maid in Saudi Arabia for $180 a month, with kind employers, food to eat, clothes to wear and the freedom to call home whenever she wanted.
Thirteen years later, she now realises she was signing up to be a slave.
“I almost gave up on life,” Pov said of her life in Saudi Arabia, wiping away tears with her headscarf as she described more than a decade of abuse and the dramatic escape that led to her being repatriated with the help of the Ministry of Labour last week.
Pov is now the second woman to be rescued out of roughly 100 maids recruited by an agency owned by Cham Muslim community leader Ahmad Yahya in 2005 to go to the Gulf state under a program that the Ministry of Labour now says was illegal.
Yahya insists his agency, Accept Group, was given clear permission to recruit and send maids to Saudi Arabia, producing a prakas signed by then-Minister of Labour and current Funcinpec lawmaker Nheb Bun Chhin titled “Permission to allow ACCEPT Group to select, train, send and manage Cambodian labourers to work in Saudi Arabia”.
But Bun Chhin, contacted earlier this week, said he meant to give Yahya permission only to “explore the market” and report back to the ministry.
“I said, ‘This is the right time, because the market has been open for a while and it was the strategy of the government to explore and send migrant workers to other countries’,” Bun Chhin said. “I’m sure I did not authorise any technical agreement to send maids to Saudi Arabia.”