Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Largest ever group of Cambodian returnees in repatriation program due from US soon




Largest ever group of Cambodian returnees in repatriation program due from US soon

Deportees from the US socialise in Battambang province earlier this year.
Deportees from the US socialise in Battambang province earlier this year. Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP

Largest ever group of Cambodian returnees in repatriation program due from US soon

More than 70 Cambodians are set to be deported to the Kingdom by the United States by the end of the month, the largest batch ever in the history of the controversial 15-year-old program, Cambodia’s Immigration Department and advocates confirmed yesterday.

In a speech to garment workers in Phnom Penh yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen welcomed the “brothers and sisters” home – largely brushing aside his own previous scathing comments about the repatriation program.

“We have an agreement with the US and we need to follow it,” Hun Sen said. “For us, we thought about humanitarian issues and human rights, but we have not changed anything to not follow the agreement.”

The 2002 agreement became a flashpoint in Cambodian-US relations after the Kingdom temporarily stopped accepting deportees last year, leading the US to impose visa sanctions on top Cambodian Foreign Ministry officials.

The dispute briefly put Hun Sen and rights advocates on the same side, with both criticising the program as inhumane. Many of the returnees, most of whom went to the US as refugee children, have never set foot in Cambodia and were not aware they were not US citizens at the time they committed the criminal offences that precipitated their deportation.

Ministry of Interior immigration head Sok Phal said yesterday that an estimated 72 people are in the process of being deported, but said he did not know when they would arrive.

Bill Herod, head of the Phnom Penh-based Returnee Integration Support Center, said the NGO is expecting the first batch of deportees to land by the end of the month and a second group shortly thereafter.

“This is the largest group we’ve ever received,” Herod said, adding that it is “very disheartening to see these numbers”.

“It’s a matter of international law. It’s terrible and we all hate it and wish it weren’t that way, but the fact is these are Cambodian citizens, not US citizens.”

Hun Sen, in his speech, also promised he would “not allow anyone to mistreat” the deportees, in reference to reports of abuse at the Australian detention centres for asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus islands.

The refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus have the option of coming to Cambodia under a controversial 2014 deal, but few have taken up the offer – an issue the premier said he recently brought up with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“He said that the problem is that no one wants to come to Cambodia, and it is true,” Hun Sen said. “They want to live in Australia . . . He said that his opposition party said that when they win the election, they will be allowed to live in Australia.”

The US Embassy declined to comment yesterday.

Updated: Thursday 7 December, 6:30am

MOST VIEWED

  • Body of woman killed in Bangkok returns

    The Cambodian embassy in Thailand is working to repatriate the body of a casino dealer who was shot dead in Bangkok on Monday night. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesman Kuy Kuong told The Post on Wednesday that officials are preparing paperwork to

  • Chikungunya hits 15 provinces, says gov’t

    Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said on Thursday that the chikungunya outbreak in the Kingdom has spread to 15 provinces. Some 1,700 people are now suspected to have the disease. Vandine urged people to prevent its further spread by eliminating shelters for the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes

  • Gov’t exempts visa A and B holders from Covid fees

    Airline passengers who are diplomats and officials of international organisations holding Type A and B visas for travel to Cambodia are exempted from paying Covid-19 testing fees, said the Ministry of Health in its latest adjustment of rules on Wednesday. Health Minister Mam Bun Heng

  • Bill covering dress code draws ire

    Ministry of Interior secretary of state Ouk Kim Lek responded on Tuesday to criticism concerning a draft law that would ban women from wearing overly revealing clothing, saying that input from all parties will be considered as the law moves through the promulgation process. Several

  • Passing the test: Is Cambodia’s education system failing its people?

    The Kingdom’s education system needs to grow its people but some flaws might stifle​ this growth Coming from the Khmer Rouge occupation, with the loss of many scholars and academicians and a collapsed government, the education system had to be reconstructed from scratch – one

  • What’s the deal with Cambodia and China’s FTA?

    Cambodia’s Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China kicks off a series of FTAs in future but for now, critics wonder what else the parties could bring to the table apart from what it already has to date By the end of this year, Cambodia