US embassy spokesman Arend C Zwartjes confirmed on Thursday that 46 Cambodians will be deported from the US to Cambodia later this month, even as some NGOs are criticising the Trump administration for repatriating them
“We can confirm that 46 Cambodians will be returning in mid-December,” Zwartjes said, referring questions to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), which handles deportations.
The Post was unable to reach ICE officials for comment.
Bill Herod, an adviser to the Khmer Vulnerability Aid Organisation which provides assistance for Cambodian deportees, said they are ready to offer assistance – to all new arrivals young and old – in securing housing, employment, counselling, orientation and in medical and legal matters.
“As with all previous groups, we will meet this one on arrival and provide temporary housing, basic orientation and any emergency medical assistance if required."
“In cooperation with Cambodia’s General Department of Identification, we will assist them in securing birth certificates and national ID cards. We will also assist them to contact friends or relatives who might assist in their resettlement,” Herod said.
However, he condemned the Trump administration for the way it has dealt with deportations.
“As an individual American citizen, not representing any organisation, I am deeply ashamed of my government’s policy of deporting Cambodian refugees who grew up in the US."
“In the vast majority of the cases I have seen, the legal problems these individuals faced in the US resulted from the failure of American refugee resettlement programmes."
“The heartbreaking separation of these people from their families and friends in the US simply prolongs the agony for decades to come. The current policy may be legal, but it is certainly unjust and counterproductive, and I proudly support individuals and groups who seek changes in law and practice so these separations can be stopped and even reversed,” Herod said.
Adhoc rights group spokesman Soeung Sen Karuna said the government should ensure the deportees’ seamless reintegration into Cambodian communities and provide the skills necessary to live comfortably.
“In my opinion, the US should have different approaches apart from deportation,” he said.
‘Unfair and unjustified’
In August, thirty more Cambodian deportees from the US arrived at the Phnom Penh International Airport.
Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, said he is not surprised at all that the deportees were complaining about the situation in US immigration detention facilities because the conditions there are very poor, including the provision of inadequate food and other basic essentials.
“It’s an unfortunate fact that the US treats immigration detainees like prisoners. While we don’t know what crimes these deportees had committed while they were in the US, there is no good reason for the US government to keep non-violent offenders in detention while facing deportation,” he said.
Under the Trump administration, he said, the situation of migrants, green card holders and refugees are dangerous and difficult because ICE is now operating with little regard for human rights.
“I strongly doubt that any protest by the Khmer or other Southeast Asian communities in the US will be significant enough to stop the deportation of these 46 men."
“It’s totally unfair and unjustified for the US to deport these persons all the way around the world to Cambodia, especially when most of them entered the US as children and have spent most of their lives there,” he said.
Robertson said the deportees will be completely lost in Cambodia. They have Khmer faces, he observed, but little knowledge of the language or the reality of living in the country.
“It’s really shocking. However, the Khmer community in America also faces some part of the blame because so many young Cambodians don’t bother to apply and get their US citizenship despite being eligible for it."
“The reason that the US can legally deport these 46 people is that they are only green card holders and not citizens. Had these 46 people applied and received their citizenship, the US would not be able to do this to them,” he said.