Former permanent residents sent home after prison terms
AT least 10 Cambodians who have been legally living in the United States are expected to arrive in the Kingdom today after being deported. Officials said yesterday that this was in accordance with a controversial bilateral repatriation agreement reached in 2002.
All the deportees are former legal permanent US residents – but not full citizens – who have served prison sentences for aggravated felonies, a group of crimes that was expanded in 1996 to include some that were previously misdemeanours.
Rights workers have criticised the repatriation policy as needlessly strict, while voicing concern that those affected by it face challenges in adapting to Cambodian society.
Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said yesterday that he had received a letter from the Cambodian embassy in Washington last month informing him that 10 deportees would arrive in the Kingdom today, but noted that the number might have since increased.
Kloeung Aun, executive director of the Returnee Integration Support Centre, an NGO based in the capital, said local officials had informed him to expect 10 new arrivals sometime in September, but that he had not been given a specific date or details about their individual cases.
He said that the 10 expected arrivals were part of a group of almost 50 people waiting to be deported from the US.
“There are approximately 49 people currently being detained in America pending removal,” he said. Prospective deportees were detained while their travel documents were organised, a process that could take anywhere from a month to more than a year, he said.
The US embassy in Phnom Penh said by email that such deportations targeted not only Cambodians.
“Non-citizens who have been convicted of aggravated felonies are subject to deportation under US immigration law,” the embassy said.
“We also remain committed to helping the returnees successfully reintegrate into Cambodian society.”
But Kloeung Aun said yesterday that many deportees faced a struggle to reintegrate.
“It is difficult for a lot of people to come back,” he said. “Many people left as refugees at 5 or 6 years old, and some were born in Thai refugee camps, so they have never been to Cambodia before.”
He said that a total of 229 Cambodian-Americans, only two of whom were female, had been deported since the signing of the repatriation agreement in 2002, and that there were at least 14,000 more people at risk of deportation.
Sara Colm, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said yesterday that American immigration laws were “very strict in that many of the people being deported have committed very minor and nonviolent crimes”.
“Our overall concern is that the Cambodians who are being deported are in the US legally as refugees and permanent residents,” she said.
“And they’ve already been punished; they’ve already served a prison sentence.”