PETALING JAYA - More than 100 Malaysians working for syndicates in Cambodia have been rescued by the Malaysian embassy there since 2018, says Malaysian Ambassador to Cambodia Eldeen Husaini Mohd Hashim.
It has not been an easy feat as the embassy also had to go through procedures set by the Cambodian government before these Malaysians could be flown home.
There is also another side of the story.
Some of the Malaysians had refused to be rescued or leave Cambodia.
"We have rescued many but many also don't want to go back to Malaysia. Some of them ran away from home, some ran away from 'ah long' (loanshark).
"Sometimes they don't want to tell their parents the truth.
"When the parents don't know what to do, they create stories that their children got kidnapped and were forced to work but when we went to rescue them, they said they don't want to go back," said Mr Eldeen.
He said the embassy had been working hard on this as they felt for the parents who missed their children.
"We are trying very hard to get them out but all have their own specific case," Mr Eldeen said, noting that frustrated parents tend to take their grievances to MPs, state representatives or the press without grasping the situation.
He stressed that the embassy could not just fly the Malaysians out as soon as they were rescued as there were procedures that must be followed.
Those who have violated Cambodian immigration laws are required to serve their sentence before they can leave the country but the Malaysian embassy will intervene when this happens.
"Some of the Malaysians came to Cambodia illegally via lorong tikus (secret passages) and were without travel documents.
"But the embassy can plead for them to be deported instead of being sent to jail," he said when contacted.
After raids on the syndicates, the Cambodian authorities would send rescued Malaysians to the immigration depot to be investigated and have their documentation done.
"Once this is done, they will be sent to the embassy for the deportation process, where we will issue the Emergency Certificate and alert our police and Wisma Putra," he said.
The Emergency Certificate is issued to Malaysians holding an expired, lost passport or a passport validity less than six months to return to Malaysia one way.
"Once everything is cleared, we will escort the Malaysians to the airport with Cambodian police," said Mr Eldeen.
The time frame before they can be sent home depends on several factors, such as the waiting time for them to be investigated by the Cambodian authorities due to the number of detainees at the depot, including those from other countries.
"It would also depend if the authorities suspect the person is a ringleader and if they have criminal records," said Mr Eldeen.
On claims by families that the Malaysians in the Cambodian immigration depot were not receiving proper food from the embassy or legal counsel, Mr Eldeen said these were all untrue.
Mr Eldeen said he had personally visited the immigration depot in Sihanoukville and found that the food was being supplied according to schedule and that the living quarters were also not crammed.
While there was speculation that there were around 60 to 70 Malaysians in the depot, it is believed that the real figure is lower.
Mr Eldeen said the operations to rescue the Malaysians were only made possible because of the cooperation by the Cambodian authorities.
"They are helping us a lot. The embassy has been communicating with the Cambodian authorities to get Malaysians out of the syndicates.
"We are also talking to other embassies such as Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
"This is a coordinated mission. We have the same problem so we talk to the authorities as a team," he said. THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK