Twenty-five Cambodian-Americans landed in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, marking the first such deportations of the year.
“On Wednesday, US law enforcement authorities deported 25 Cambodian nationals that immigration judges determined had no legal basis to remain in the US,” said Arend Zwartjes, spokesperson for the US embassy in Phnom Penh.
Khmer Vulnerability Aid Organisation (KVAO) spokesman Bill Herod told The Post on Thursday that the 25 men – aged between 33 and 60 – arrived in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. His NGO was now assisting them in their resettlement.
He said the latest deportations brought the total number of deportees from the US to 768, having arrived in Cambodia through the KVAO programme since 2002.
He said only two deportees had returned to the US as a result of legal technicalities.
“KVAO assists to resettle these individuals by providing free food and housing during the initial adjustment period, securing needed documentation and providing basic cultural orientation, as well as counselling and assistance in finding employment,” Herod said.
KVAO also assisted with needed referrals for healthcare and provided legal monitoring and cooperation with US-based attorneys working on continuing legal issues, he said.
Prok May Oudom, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Identification, which deals with receiving deportees, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Last October, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn met with US Ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy and requested an amendment to the memorandum of understanding (MoU) that would allow the deportees to be reunited with their families on humanitarian grounds.
“Our request to amend the MoU regarding the deportation of Cambodians seems to have made no progress,” said Koy Kuong, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Zwartjes of the US Embassy did not wish to elaborate on the progress of the Cambodian request.
The US Department of Immigration and Customs said 1,900 Cambodian-Americans living in the US had been served deportation warrants, 1,400 of whom had been convicted of various crimes.
Chak Sopheap, the executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said deportees faced serious challenges.
“For many of the Cambodian deportees arriving from the US, this is the first time they are setting foot in the Kingdom. Many of them were not born here, having fled to the US as refugees from Thai camps during the Khmer Rouge period.
“Others who were born here return for the first time in many decades. In both cases, deportees understandably do not fully identify with Khmer culture.
“The result is that they face a serious risk of failing to assimilate, falling into poverty and suffering severe mental health repercussions.
She said that those who had spent time in jail after committing crimes were being further penalised.
“In some cases, individuals being returned to Cambodia have already served time in prison for the crimes they committed in the US.
“In these instances, separation from their families and deportation back to a country where they do not share the language or culture serves as a double punishment.
“It is vital that civil society continues to keep this issue on the agenda, assist deportees, and advocate for fairer immigration policies,” she said.