A total of 43 Cambodian citizens who were convicted of crimes in the US arrived yesterday in the Kingdom.
A senior immigration police officer said that all 43 deportees arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport at about 7.30am.
Upon arrival, they were brought to waiting minivans and were driven off with immigration police officers.
Keo Vanthan, spokesman for the General Department of Immigration, said that three women were part of the group deported from the United States.
Immigration police officer Dim Ra said the returnees were sent to the Khmer Vulnerability Aid Organisation, a partner of the US embassy, where they would be provided accommodation.
“They were sent to the organisation but some people had their relatives come to pick them up,” he said.
US embassy spokesman David Josar said 43 Cambodian citizens were returned to Cambodia yesterday by the US Department of Homeland Security. The returnees were subject to lawful removal orders issued by a US immigration judge, he added.
“We appreciate the government of Cambodia’s cooperation in the removal process and its willingness to meet its obligations under international law to accept the return of its nationals who are not eligible to remain in the United States,” he said via email.
Kevin Lo, staff attorney with Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the law firm Sidley Austin LLP, said the 43 Cambodians left El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday evening. He added many of them were supposed to be deported in December.
“The people that were deported either did not have options, were not able to speak with attorneys or simply were so tired of the endless detention and transfers across the United States that they were too worn down to fight their cases again in immigration court,” Mr Lo said.
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.
Many were born in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines, and have never set foot in Cambodia, nor speak Khmer.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Brendan Raedy did not respond to a request for comment yesterday but said in late November at least 534 possible deportees were waiting for travel documents from Cambodia, with some requests stretching back to 2008.
More than 1,900 Cambodian nationals living in the United States, 1,412 of which have criminal convictions, are subject to a final order of removal.
Kalvin Hang, member of 1Love Cambodia, said the advocacy group has contributed items to returnees such as toothbrushes, towels, face cloths, deodorant and other toiletries, noodles and sweets.
“I disagree with the policy of the US to deport them to Cambodia because it is inhuman and separates them from their families,” he said.
Many returnees served long prison sentences in the US, but changed their attitudes by working in their communities and should not have been deported, added Mr Hang.