At an annual meeting yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed it had asked the United States to postpone deporting Cambodian citizens to the Kingdom before the completion of a review of the agreement that underpins the controversial repatriations.
Speaking to reporters, Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Ouch Borith said authorities, prompted by public pressure, had asked their American counterparts to stay deportations.
“We have received complaints and requests from our people in the US and also in Cambodia, because some Cambodian people who have been deported here have no families or relatives in Cambodia,” he said.
“We have requested the US to postpone deportations for a while to give us some time to review the MoU.”
Inked in 2002, the memorandum of understanding allows the US to send back Cambodian-Americans who have been convicted of a felony but lack US citizenship. More than 500 people have been repatriated under the deal. Most arrived in the US as the children of refugees fleeing the Kingdom’s civil war and have never set foot on Cambodia soil.
The practice has been criticised as “tearing families apart”. Voice of America reported last month that 36 Cambodians were soon to be deported.
Reached yesterday, US Embassy deputy spokesman David Josar said the MoU allowed for either side to convene a “joint commission on repatriation” to discuss policy issues.
Following Cambodia’s request, he said the commission was expected to convene “in the coming months”. He directed further questions to the US Department of Homeland Security, which did not respond to a query by press time.
Sophea Phea, who was deported in 2011 and is part of the support group for returnees 1Love Cambodia, yesterday applauded Cambodia’s position, but said she was “concerned” the US would not halt repatriations.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Affairs’ report also waded into the disputed South China Sea, claiming Cambodia had “tried hard to reduce tension” between China, which claims most of the waters, and several ASEAN states with rival claims. A recent ruling at The Hague found most of China’s claims to be baseless.
The report gave a special mention to what it said were Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon’s “remarkable” efforts to coordinate between China and ASEAN states during an ASEAN foreign ministers summit last July.
The statement is at odds with remarks by one diplomat, who blamed Cambodia for blocking language critical of China.