Leaving or staying? A truckload of some of the 217 illegal Chinese immigrants
supposedly deported on Sep 23.
A SECRET operation by immigration police officials has allowed as many as 70 illegal
Chinese immigrants supposedly deported from Cambodia on Sep 30 to remain in the country,
their whereabouts unknown.
An Interior Ministry source who was present at the deportation proceedings at Pochentong
Military Airport on Sep 23 has told the Post he watched as 70 of the 217 Chinese
illegal immigrants were separated from the main group upon arrival at the airport.
The remaining 147 were loaded on to two China Southern Airlines aircraft chartered
by the Chinese government to return the group to China.
In a move apparently designed to foil media assembled at the gates of the airport,
immigration officials waited until after the departure of Cambodian government and
Chinese Embassy officials from the scene to transfer the 70 Chinese illegals to "an
undisclosed location near the airport".
That high-level police and Chinese Embassy officials both oversaw the deportation
and have subsequently refused to disclose a list enumerating the number of Chinese
deported suggests the secret operation was the result of collusion between representatives
of both governments.
Immigration Police Director Prok Saroeun has confirmed that not all of the 217 illegal
Chinese immigrants were deported as immigration and Chinese officials have previously
claimed, but insisted that reports that 70 were kept behind were "too high".
"Actually only twenty-eight [of the original 217] remain," Sarouen told
the Post, adding that "processing difficulties" had prompted the decision
not to deport the group.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Chea Sophara also confirmed that the 28 Chinese were not
deported on Sep 31, adding that "hundreds more" illegal Chinese immigrants
known to authorities remain at large.
"The ministry in charge of this case seems to be ignoring it," Sophara
fumed. "This case will not be finished if the relevant ministry does not take
some real action."
However, an official in the Foreign Ministry verified that the actual number of Chinese
who avoided deportation on Sep 31 stood at 70.
The Foreign Ministry official added that the decision to allow the 70 unnamed Chinese
to remain in Cambodia served the interests of all involved.
"[The seventy Chinese] are all gangsters," the source told the Post. "They
can't go back [because] if they step foot in China, they're dead ... China doesn't
want them back anyway."
The official added that immigration police stand to profit handsomely by allowing
the 70 to remain in Cambodia.
"It's easy ... [the Chinese] pay ten or twenty thousand dollars [to the police]
and they can do what they want," the source explained.
"Police keep tabs on them and the Chinese know they can be jailed at any time,
so in six months the police can go back to them, ask for another twenty thousand
dollars and the Chinese will pay up."
The revelation of the fraudulent deportation operation is only the latest twist in
a bizarre saga that began with the arrest of 222 Chinese illegal immigrants at a
"safe house" in Toul Kork district on Aug 19.
A series of mysterious events plagued the official investigation into the Chinese
and the "snake head" organizers behind their entry into Cambodia. Two suspicious
fires at the Immigration Detention Center were believed to be intended to destroy
documentation regarding the 222 illegals.
Five of the Chinese later made a daring escape from the facility, reducing the total
number of illegals still in custody to 217.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Chea Sophara later alleged high-ranking official involvement
in the trafficking of illegal Chinese immigrants in Cambodia and urged that the 217
face charges on illegal entry.
However, a Sep 20 scheduled court appearance was scuttled due to what was announced
at the time as "incomplete paperwork".
In the days that followed, the Chinese Embassy released a letter obliquely threatening
harm to the "friendly relations" between China and Cambodia if the 217
were tried, prompting the unannounced deportation operation on Sep 23 from which
media were barred.
Wu Jingshen, First Secretary of the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh, rejected out of
hand the allegations that not all of the 217 Chinese illegals had been deported on
Contacted yesterday regarding the allegations, he told the Post: "Chinese Embassy
officials were present during the entire deportation procedure. I can assure you
that all 217 were returned to China."