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Cambodia committed to repatriation of US deportees

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Twenty-eight Cambodians convicted of crimes in the United States were deported last year, bringing the number to more than 500 since 2002, according to the Ministry of Interior’s general department of immigration.

According to an annual report by the immigration department released yesterday, Cambodia has continued to cooperate with the US in the repatriation of convicted Cambodians set for deportation.

“So far, 572 Cambodian citizens have been repatriated,” the report said. Cambodian and the US signed a memorandum of understanding on the Repatriations Agreement in 2002, but cooperation seemed to stall last year as the two countries traded diplomatic barbs following the arrest of former CNRP leader Kem Sokha and the dissolution of the party.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng said yesterday during the report’s release that the government continued to accept Cambodian deportees from the US as recommended by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“It is not easy to accept Cambodian citizens living in the US,” he said. “First, they protested because they are separated from their families. Second, some people are sick.”

“We tried to make some requests with the US but it has been very hard,” he added.

Mr Hun Sen has urged the US to change the agreement covering the repatriation of Cambodians convicted of crimes. Cambodia wants to amend the agreement based on human rights, arguing that separating convicts from their families is inhumane.

Both governments are still negotiating a change to the controversial agreement.

Chum Sounry, spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said he did not have updated information from the US government related to the MoU.

Earlier this month, during a meeting with US assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch, Mr Kheng asked the US to increase funding for Cambodian deportees to enable them to build a new life in the kingdom.

From 1975 until the end of the 20th century, more than 145,000 Cambodian refugees were accepted into the US, along with 42,000 non-refugees, part of an influx of Southeast Asians displaced by war.

Cambodian refugees entered the US having suffered extensive psychological trauma. Most arrived in American cities at the peak of the cocaine epidemic and, predictably, many young Cambodians drifted toward gang activity, putting themselves on the wrong side of the law.

A US district judge in a ruling on January 25 blocked President Donald Trump’s administration from immediately deporting 92 Cambodian citizens still in custody in the US.

The deportees had been previously convicted of criminal charges, ordered deported, and released from immigration custody only to be rearrested years later.

Brendan Raedy, a spokesman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in December that there were more than 1,900 Cambodian nationals residing in the US who were subject to a final order of removal, 1,412 of whom have criminal convictions.

The US embassy in Phnom Penh did not respond to an email for comment yesterday.

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