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Malaysia says firms that hired stranded migrant workers to face action

FILE PHOTO: South Asian migrant workers stand on a bridge in Sepang

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia said on Monday it would sanction firms and strip away licences from recruitment agencies involved in hiring migrant workers who later found themselves stranded without jobs in the country.

Reuters reported last week that hundreds of South Asian migrants, mostly from Bangladesh and Nepal, had been left in limbo after arriving in Malaysia, where they were told that jobs promised to them in exchange for steep recruitment fees were no longer available. Malaysia announced a probe last month.

The plight of the migrants - many of whom say they have not been paid salaries for months - comes amid concerns over workplace abuses in Malaysia, with several companies facing U.S. bans for forced labour in recent years.

In response to Reuters' queries, Malaysia's Labour Department vowed to take action against recruitment agencies and companies found to have misused government quotas and licences for hiring migrant workers.

The department said in an emailed statement it would conduct a thorough investigation, and would not compromise on any unlawful activities that could "lead to any form of forced labour".

The department said it had moved some of the stranded workers to government-registered quarters, and compelled some companies to pay for their accommodation and salaries.

It did not say how many workers in a similar plight it had identified, or how many firms or agencies it was investigating.

The department also denied reports that two Nepali citizens had died by suicide at a workers' accommodation facility.

It cited police investigations that determined only one death - that of a Nepali recruitment agent, who had travelled to Malaysia to oversee the cases of workers stranded.

The police would conduct a further probe into the death, the department said.

(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi and Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Alex Richardson)