KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Malaysia must punish the recruitment agents accused of forcing more than 100 foreign women to work as domestic help without pay and enforce laws to protect migrant workers, the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and a migrant workers' support group said on Monday.
Malaysian immigration officers on Saturday rescued 105 women, mostly Indonesians, who said they had been forced to work as domestic helpers and at food stalls, been given little food and been confined to a four-story building at night in the port town of Klang, near Kuala Lumpur.
"A few of them said they had been beaten by the supervisors," said Chandran Muniandy, the assistant deputy director of immigration in Klang. "They locked them up. They couldn't go anywhere."
Some of the women in the group, which included 95 Indonesians, 6 Filipinos and 4 Cambodians, said that they had been forced to work for up to six months and had not been paid, Mr. Chandran added.
Twelve people who worked for the agency, including Malaysians and foreigners, have been arrested under Malaysia's antitrafficking laws, Mr. Chandran said, adding that he expected to make more arrests.
The case is the latest in a series of episodes involving Indonesian domestic workers that have at times strained diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Malaysia. Last month, two Indonesian domestic workers reported that they had been raped. One alleged that she had been raped by three police officers, while the other woman said her employer had raped her.
In December 2011, Indonesia lifted a ban in place since 2009 that had prevented women from coming to Malaysia to work as domestic helpers.
"We will send a diplomatic note to the Malaysian government asking for tough punishment against them," said Suryana Sastradiredja, a spokesman for the Indonesian Embassy, referring to those alleged to be the perpetrators in the Klang case.
Yusnida, an Indonesian woman, said that the agency had taken her and other women to work as maids in different homes each day from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., according to a report in The Star, a Malaysian newspaper. "My hands and legs were swollen from the long hours of work every day," she was quoted as saying. "The agent only provided us with two meals a day. There was not enough food, and the workload was heavy."
The agency told her that she could leave only once she had paid the agency a fee for bringing her to Malaysia, according to the report.
Mr. Suryana, of the Indonesian Embassy, urged the Malaysian authorities to take swift action against those who committed crimes against domestic workers.
He expressed anger that the three police officers charged with the rape of the Indonesian worker last month had been released on bail.
"I'm very, very angry with the situation," he said. "If one Indonesian commits a crime, the Malaysian government is very quick to react, but a crime involving Malaysians, they are very slow."
Irene Fernandez, the executive director of Tenaganita, an advocacy group for migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur, said the Malaysian authorities needed to provide better protection for domestic helpers and more effectively prosecute unscrupulous agents who abuse workers.
"A lot of homes are looking for part-time workers and cleaners, and so they are using that now and providing this form of labor where the workers are in a slavery-like situation," she said, adding that women were often lured to Malaysia by agents who promised them factory jobs, only to find themselves forced to work as domestic helpers after their arrival.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.