When the first group of deportees from the US landed in Phnom Penh on June 22, 2002,
there was no program to assist them with resettlement. In response to the obvious
needs of those first six men, the Returnee Assistance Project (RAP) was established
with little more than borrowed rooms and good intentions. Now, three years and 12
groups later, RAP remains the only organization committed to serving this unique
Recent notices published in The Cambodia Daily by USAID, a subsequent story in the
Phnom Penh Post, and a more balanced article in The Cambodia Daily, have raised concerns
that RAP is in serious trouble and is being dropped by USAID, its primary donor.
On the contrary, USAID has expressed its commitment to returnee assistance and the
RAP program. RAP and USAID are currently working together to expand resettlement
assistance for those being deported from the US. The notice published in The Cambodia
Daily was a public announcement that a new partner is being sought to administer
the USAID grant to RAP, and to provide necessary administrative support to RAP.
RAP has grown significantly in the last three years. In the last year, the Center
for Social Development (CSD) administered the grant from USAID for RAP. Recently,
USAID has indicated its willingness to increase its financial support for RAP. This
would enable RAP to expand its staff and services and would also involve a very substantial
increase in administrative work. As CSD considered what would be involved in managing
the much larger program, they chose to withdraw from the grant agreement as of the
end of the first year (September 30, 2005).
RAP is in conversation with several potential partners who have submitted the required
capability statements to USAID. It remains now for USAID to examine the capacity
of these organizations, then invite formal proposals from those who are qualified.
RAP will then work with the potential partners to draft proposals for the future.
In considering its continued support, USAID commissioned a review of RAP. In short,
the assessment found that RAP isn't a very good multidisciplinary social service
agency. That is a little like NASA saying a cyclo wouldn't make a very good lunar
In the last three years RAP has struggled first with a lack of funds and more recently
with limited funds and the increasingly complex needs of the returnees. We have done
what we could with what we had but we look forward to expanding our assistance to
returnees, with support from USAID. As resources are made available, we are committed
to providing more and better services provided by qualified staff. As always our
challenge is to provide the best assistance possible for those who have been involuntarily
deported. We didn't expect this work would be easy or without controversy and it
A few specifics do warrant comment:
* RAP does not have problems with financial accountability. Financial management
services are provided by our administrative partner, currently CSD. The real financial
problem has been RAP's perpetual state of debt. This stems from the USAID funding
mechanism. USAID only reimburses RAP (through CSD) for funds already spent or committed
and this can take a month or more. Therefore, funds have to be borrowed to meet monthly
* RAP does not use alcohol "as a sedative for returnees with mental health issues."
With the assistance of mental health professionals, RAP provides quality, round-the-clock
care for several psychotic individuals, protecting them and those around them from
harm. These men are not under legal confinement, however, and do have a little pocket
money which they can spend as they wish (snacks, cigarettes, playing pool or whatever).
One man likes to buy a "shot" of rice wine once in a while. RAP attempts
to limit his alcohol consumption but cannot stop it entirely.
* RAP provides housing and job search assistance (e.g. information, assistance with
CVs and arranging job interviews, documentation, etc.). While giving special consideration
to new arrivals and those with special needs, RAP is not able to provide housing
or jobs to all returnees.
We at RAP are excited about the future. After three years of challenging work with
limited resources, it now seems likely this program will have the support needed
to provide professional social services, educational scholarships, small business
grants and other resettlement assistance required for these men and women to be successfully
integrated into Cambodian society.
Bill Herod, Coordinator