Thirty-seven Cambodian Americans arrived in the Kingdom on Thursday following their departure from the US on Tuesday.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the 37, most of whom are convicted criminals, were deported following immigration court proceedings. Their flight left from Dallas, Texas.
ICE said the 37 had committed various crimes ranging from drug offences, auto theft, resisting arrest, robbery, forgery, child abuse, rape, aggravated assault and murder.
“ERO [Enforcement and Removal Operations] carries out its mission to remove aliens who present a danger to national security or are a risk to public safety, as well as those who undermine the integrity of our immigration laws with the utmost professionalism daily, and often in the face of adversity,” said ERO acting assistant director Jeffrey Lynch.
“This most recent removal flight took 35 criminals – many convicted of the most heinous possible crimes – off our streets and made our communities safe,” he added.
Bill Herod, spokesperson for the Khmer Vulnerability Aid Organisation (KVAO), a Cambodian-based NGO which assists deportees during their integration, said on Thursday that the group arrived in Phnom Penh in the morning.
He said 32 of them had entered the US as refugees and had lived there for decades. The other five had entered the US much more recently as immigrants.
“As with all previous groups, KVAO is assisting in the challenging work of building new lives in Cambodia. We provide basic cultural orientation and assist in securing needed documents and in finding appropriate employment making use of their fluency in English and other specialised skills,” said Herod.
He said forcible separation from their loved ones makes it difficult for them to adjust to life in Cambodia. It also causes hardships for their families in the US, including, in many cases, partners, children and ageing parents.
“These repatriations may be legal, but they are clearly immoral and counter-productive. We look forward to the day when the law will reflect these realities,” he said.
ICE said removals to Cambodia increased 279 per cent from 2017 to 2018. It admitted that there are currently approximately 1,900 Cambodian nationals present in the US with a final order of removal. 1,400 of them are convicted criminals.
Top Neth, the spokesperson for the General Department of Identification, a division of the General Department of Immigration confirmed that the group had arrived, but he did not have any updates.
Cambodian Centre for Human Rights executive director Chak Sopheap said the group had been doubly punished by being sent to Cambodia after having served time in US prisons.
“When it comes to the deportation of Cambodian Americans, their status as refugees must not be sidelined or ignored. The human rights of refugees must be the first and overriding factor in determining their fate,” she said.
She added that in Cambodia, they were at increased risk of falling into poverty, and in numerous cases, the deportees do not fully identify with Khmer culture.