Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan held a media conference to raise awareness about the plight of Cambodian-American returnees yesterday amid an ongoing dispute with the US over the Kingdom’s refusal to accept more deportees.
Siphan said the event was meant to encourage NGOs and locals to extend a “helping hand” to deportees, although he stressed that the event was not political in nature.
“The event today is not related to the Cambodian government,” Siphan said. “It’s on behalf of Cambodian-Americans who live in Cambodia and want to raise their concerns about deportation.”
The government does not provide financial assistance to deportees to the Kingdom, according to the local NGO Returnee Integration Support Center, although the US government does so through USAID.
Under a 2002 memorandum of understanding (MoU), the US has deported 566 Cambodian permanent residents to the Kingdom after they were convicted of crimes in America, a practice that has been criticised by advocates and the Cambodian government as inhumane.
Most of the deportees are refugees who were brought to America as infants and have never set foot in Cambodia.
The disagreement between the two governments escalated last month after the US imposed visa sanctions on Cambodian Foreign Ministry officials, and Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the suspension of a programme to repatriate the remains of American soldiers who went missing during the Vietnam War.
Siphan said yesterday that a team of Cambodian officials may interview a group of more than 100 recently detained Cambodian-Americans.
By law, non-US citizens convicted of a wide range of offences can be deported after serving their sentences.
For Kalvin Heng, 36, from San Diego, that meant being deported for his participation in a fistfight at 18.
“The first year, my family sent me money to support me because I didn’t have a job and couldn’t make a living in Cambodia,” Heng said at the media conference. “It’s not as bad for me because I still have relatives in Cambodia, but for other people who don’t have any family members, they don’t know how to live in Cambodia.”
David Josar, spokesman for the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, said representatives from the two countries last met on October 13 to discuss the MoU.
“All countries have an international obligation to accept the return of their citizens,” Josar wrote in an email.