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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - RAP becomes RISP with new USAID grant

RAP becomes RISP with new USAID grant


RISP director George Ellis says deportation traumatizes people. They are ripped away from society, families and friends. They have no clue what they are about to face.

In a closed-door meeting on Tuesday with officials of the United States Agency for

International Development (USAID), the US Embassy and more than 30 Cambodian deportees

from the US, the staff of the Returnee Integration Support Program (RISP) presented

the newly appointed program's policies, services and mission.

"I think it was a positive meeting," said RISP director Dr George Ellis.

"I felt that people were open to the new guidelines, and we were able to dispel

some myths and misunderstandings about the program."

On September 26, Veterans International Cambodia, the Cambodian office of Vietnam

Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF), was awarded a three-year, $800,000 grant agreement

from USAID to launch RISP. The program was to assume management of the three-year-old

Returnee Assistance Project (RAP) and expand its existing programs. According to

Ellis, RISP is the only US-funded program in the world established to assist foreign

citizens deported from the US.

"For VVAF this project is in line with our mission to address the causes, conduct

and consequences of war," Larrie Warren, director of VVAF's Post Conflict Rehabilitation

program, said in September. "These returnees are a consequence of the 20 years

of civil war that destroyed the social structure of Cambodia."

Those in attendance on November 29 were given a 20-page document detailing the services

and responsibilities of returnees who choose to participate in the program. The pamphlet

explained the integration services now available, such as pre-arrival orientation,

financial and medical assistance and Khmer language classes.

"I think the guys responded real well to the new situation," said a returnee

who goes by the name "Sonic" and is employed by RISP. "They get to

understand more now because everything is on paper. We haven't had any complaints


Ellis said the new policies and mission statement were developed after weeks of strategic

planning with new staff, program members and former RAP director Bill Herod. Herod,

who founded RAP, has been retained by RISP as a paid adviser.

"Although I have heard allusions that we are part of INS [Immigration and Naturalization

Services], or Homeland Security, or the FBI, the reality is that we are none of these

things," Ellis said.

"We are a non-profit NGO with a grant from USAID to provide services to returnees

transitioning into a foreign country. This program is voluntary and completely independent.

These guys can use us as they see fit or walk away tomorrow. We can also choose not

to serve people who refuse to adhere to our guidelines."

Ellis, a 51-year-old clinical psychologist from Minnesota, said the biggest challenge

he has faced so far is understanding the complexity of the program and the various

challenges returnees face.

"The issue is 'How do we help people that have been deported against their will

to develop a sense of citizenship in Cambodia?'" he said.

"Deportation traumatizes people. They are ripped away from their society, their

nationalism, their communities, families and friends. Their hearts and souls remain

in America. This produces anger, disbelief and a deep sense of being wronged. They

have no clue what they are about to face and most of them have no recollection of


The RISP program now operates two facilities. The first is an existing "special

needs" home which has been restructured to assist the living of any returnee

with a physical or mental handicap The second is transitional housing provided to

new arrivals or those in special circumstances.

RISP has also hired two full-time case managers and one part-time chemical and prevention

services manager. Two assistant site managers have also been retained.

"Now that the structure is developed, one of the things that will come next

is meeting people and listening to their struggles," Ellis said. "This

will involve me going out and talking to people one on one or in small groups."

According to those who attended the meeting, many questions were raised about the

allocation of the RISP funding.

"One of the myths is that the US government gives each returnee $650 through

the RISP project and that RISP owes them this money. It isn't true," Ellis said.

"Our books are open. USAID watches every penny. Grant money is obligated money

- there is no room to play."

A 30-year-old returnee who attended the meeting but refused to be named explained

that the 139-member returnee community has adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

"It was informative, but it was really long and boring," he said. "In

my opinion it's a more organized plan. I'm not quite sure how it's going to work,

but it seems good on paper."



Mission statement

The Returnee Integration Support Program of Veterans International is a non-governmental

humanitarian organization facilitating the integration into Cambodian society of

people who were admitted to the United States as refugees and are deported to Cambodia.

Through our services we provide orientation, assistance with employment and housing,

drug, alcohol and HIV education, Khmer literacy classes, counseling and referral

services, in order to support returnees who seek assistance in becoming independent

and productive members of society.

-RISP Services and Policies




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