Minnesota activists are mobilising community members today against what they call the unjust deportation of eight Cambodian citizens from the United States, according to local media.
On Thursday, about 200 people gathered at the University of Minnesota to hear from the families of eight men who are currently awaiting deportation to the Kingdom.
Chamroeun Phan, Chan Heng Ouch, Chan Om, Ched Nin, Phoeuy Chuon, Ron An, Soeun Chheng and Sameth Nhean were all detained in August. Activists are urging Minnesota residents to begin calling their local officials today to ask for the men’s release.
The Minnesota 8, as activists are calling them, fit the profile of many Cambodians deported from the US. Most were born in Thai refugee camps, came to the US as small children and have never set foot in their country of citizenship.
All of them are legal US residents, but face deportation due to a 2002 repatriation agreement that determined immigrants who are not US citizens can be deported if they are convicted of a crime, including some misdemeanours.
In a report released this month, the US-based Southeast Asia Resource Action Center estimated there are about 13,000 citizens of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam awaiting deportation from the United States, 78 percent of whom will be deported due to their criminal record.
“Who would of known what he did in the past will soon catch up to him even when he’s a changed man,” wrote Sokha Kul, Sameth Nhean’s fiancé, in an online petition. “Like most deportees, he’s done his time. His home is here in America in Minnesota with his kids and family.”
Family members also expressed concern that the men would have trouble adjusting to life in a developing country. “The main issue is that they don’t speak the language and can’t find a job,” said Villa Kem, executive director of the Phnom Penh-based Returnee Integration Support Center (RISC). “We try to put the majority into training so they learn to be English teachers and use their language skills.”
According to Kem, an estimated 523 people have arrived from the US since 2002, with 34 arriving in 2016 alone. Many of the deportees also arrive without the identification documents needed to live and work in Cambodia, Kem added.