Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn on Thursday requested the US government to amend a memorandum of understanding (MoU) regarding the deportation of Cambodian-American convicts to Cambodia.
Sokhonn, who is also deputy prime minister, said deportation could lead to depression-related suicide when they were separated from their families.
He raised the issue during a meeting with new US ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy at the ministry.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, ministry spokesman Kuy Kuong quoted Sokhonn as suggesting that Cambodian-American convicts be allowed to reunite with their families on humanitarian grounds.
He said some of them have no relatives in Cambodia, so their deportation could depress them and eventually lead to suicides.
“Cambodia requested changes to the MoU that we made previously. We pay attention to humanitarian principles. We want to do whatever we can to help those who have been deported from the US to reunite with their siblings, relatives and children.
“Whether they are in the US or Cambodia, they need to reunite [with family],” he said.
Kuong also quoted Murphy as saying the US government would consider the request.
Am Sam Ath, the deputy monitoring director for rights group Licadho, supported the proposed amendment. He said the US should consider the request on humanitarian grounds.
“Over the years, problems have arisen because some of them were born in the US and lived with parents there [their whole lives]. But after being convicted, they were deported to Cambodia.
“While some of them have relatives waiting to receive them in Cambodia, some are not as fortunate and faced difficulties. I hope the US will consider the issue,” he said.
A report by non-profit legal aid and civil right organisation Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) said 37 Cambodian-American convicts were deported from Dallas, Texas, in July alone.
Since the MoU was inked in 2002, the report said, some 800 Cambodian-American convicts have been deported.
The US Department of Immigration and Customs said the number of Cambodian-American convicts deported to the Kingdom last year rose 279 per cent compared to 2017, though it did not specify the exact figure for that year.
The department said some 1,900 Cambodian-Americans who are living in the US had been served deportation warrants, 1,400 of whom had been convicted of various crimes.