Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Uncertain future for 43 deportees



Uncertain future for 43 deportees

Deportees from the US arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport on Thursday morning, the largest single group to ever come to Cambodia.
Deportees from the US arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport on Thursday morning, the largest single group to ever come to Cambodia. Heng Chivoan

Uncertain future for 43 deportees

By the time Nith* arrived in Wisconsin at the age of 5, he had escaped a genocide and lived in refugee camps in two different countries.

Over the next 40 years, he built a new life, earning a bachelor’s degree, opening a printer repair business, and raising two children. “I called America home,” Nith said. “I never thought about needing to become a citizen. I felt like I was a part of America. I never thought I would get in trouble.”

Then, in 2014, he was arrested and convicted of marijuana possession. Last year, US immigration officials came knocking at his door.

Nith, who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym out of concern that his status as a deportee could affect his job prospects, is among 43 Cambodian citizens who arrived on Thursday in the single largest group of US deportees to ever to be sent to Cambodia.

Bill Herod, spokesman for the Khmer Vulnerability Aid Organization, said the mood was “very positive” despite the uncertain futures many of them face.

“They’re very happy to be out of shackles and off the plane,” Herod said.

The repatriation program sparked a rift between the US and Cambodia last year after Cambodia stopped issuing travel documents to would-be deportees, leading the US to impose visa sanctions for top Cambodian foreign affairs officials.

Immigration advocates have criticised the program as inhumane. On Tuesday, Asian Law Caucus attorney Anoop Prasad, who was representing many of Thursday’s arrivals in a class action lawsuit, tweeted that he was “heartbroken”.

“Minutes ago the largest ever deportation flight to Cambodia took off,” Prasad wrote. “All are refugees of the Khmer Rouge . . . Taking a moment to grieve before continuing to fight.”

US Department of Homeland Security spokesman Brendan Raedy did not directly respond to questions about why the number of arrivals Thursday was lower than expected, or allegations that some of them had physical and mental disabilities.

In a statement, Raedy said each deportee was deemed “fit to travel” and added that visa sanctions remain in effect.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Chum Sounry expressed hope the sanctions would be lifted now that the government has “back[ed] our affirmation by concrete act”.

As for Nith, he’s made contact with a cousin who lives in Phnom Penh and hopes to restart his printer repair business in Cambodia, with his wife and daughter by his side. “It’s scary,” Nith said. “But I’m trying to stay positive.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Phnom Penh curfew starts today

    A two-week curfew from 8pm to 5am starts today in Phnom Penh, a day after a sub-decree detailing administrative measures to contain Covid-19 was issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Travelling in Phnom Penh is temporally banned between 8pm and 5am,” said Phnom Penh governor

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants