Thirty Cambodian deportees from the US are expected to arrive in the Kingdom on August 22, amid much apprehension.
Either born in the US or having migrated there as youngsters, they cannot understand Khmer, the culture is alien to them and they have no contact with their relatives here.
To make matters worse, the government is hard-pressed to deal with them, despite the deportations being carried out under a Memorandum of Understanding which is part of the Repatriations Agreement signed by both countries in 2002.
General Directorate of Identification head Mao Chandara told The Post that the lack of facilities to support the deportees is putting a strain on local authorities as many of the deportees find it difficult to integrate into the Khmer society.
“We really lack many things to support them. We have requested for assistance from the US and it has yet to respond."
“They [deportees] do not understand our language and the culture as many of them were born in the US while some had migrated there when they were very young."
“Worse, most of them have lost contact with their relatives and are unable to receive any support from them, so they find it hard to integrate into Khmer society,” he said.
He said some of them had left the country as toddlers during the civil war.
“I sympathise with them on humanitarian grounds, but it is an agreement between the two countries and we need to enforce and implement it,” he said.
‘An old story’
The most recent deportations was a result of a deal that was struck during a meeting between Sok Phal, director of the General Department of Immigration under the Ministry of Interior and Joseph Galoski, Country Attaché for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement stationed in Cambodia.
Chandara stressed that the 30 deportees from the US were the result of an agreement that was reached previously and that it had nothing to do with the recently concluded general elections. Earlier in April, 43 Cambodians were repatriated from the US, he said.
“It is an old story. We already had an agreement to repatriate them before the general elections and they will arrive on August 22,” he said.
However, Chandara did not disclose how many more will be deported this year.
“The new cases will be decided in the future once the US submits its request. We don’t know how many as yet, because once the 30 arrive it will submit a new list,” he said.
He said that the government had rejected two cases in which the deportees had health problems.
“We are not certain about the two cases where the individuals are ill. We have not accepted them as yet and the matter is still under discussions.
“But the other 30 deportees who will arrive here are in good general health. They were former prisoners and were released. They are not American citizens,” he said.
Over 700 deportees
Upon arrival, the returnees will be sent to the Khmer Vulnerability Aid Organization, which helps them to integrate into the society, teach the Khmer culture and help locate their families.
“Until today 697 Cambodians had been deported from the US. With the additional 30 deportees, the numbers exceed 700 Cambodians deported so far,” Chandara said.
Yin Chanthou, a 48-year-old Cambodian who was deported last May, ekes out a living as an English teacher. He said his criminal records still exist in the US.
“You can adjust, but you cannot fully reintegrate into Khmer culture, and I don’t think anybody can help. The medical system here is not good and my health is my main concern. We don’t get medical help.
“We are very lonely as we are separated from our families. Some people suffer from mental illness because of this situation. I have three children in the US,” he said.
US embassy spokesman Arend Zwartjes said on Monday that it would contiue working with the Cambodian government to accept the return of deportees from the US.