Thirty-six of 46 Cambodians convicted of crimes and set for deportation from the United States arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday.
The 36 deportees were met by police and workers from the Khmer Vulnerability Aid Organisation before being transferred into the NGO’s care.
Last week, an attorney for the group said the US Homeland Security Department was set to deport a total of 46 Cambodian refugees convicted of crimes in the US.
However, Asia Law Caucus’ Kevin Lo yesterday said his firm and another organisation managed to save some of them from deportation.
“So five from Asia Law Caucus stay, two from Northwest Immigrant Rights Project – one was pardoned [by the governor of Washington State], and the remaining three are unknown,” Mr Lo said.
Mr Lo noted that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has deported a total of 146 Cambodians so far this year.
A report released last week by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement noted that there has been a spike in the number of Cambodians deported. The report said 110 were deported thus far this year, up from 29 last year.
Tan Sonec, executive director of KVAO, yesterday said all the deportees were men.
“There were a total of 36 people, they were all men,” Mr Sonec said, declining to comment further.
Bill Herod, spokesman for KVAO, said in an email yesterday that it is not unusual that only 36 arrived yesterday.
“It is not unusual for the number of those who actually arrive to be different from the number rumoured to be arriving,” Mr Herod said. “That is why we never give a precise number in advance.”
Emily Zeeberg, US embassy spokeswoman, declined to comment yesterday.
In a statement yesterday, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that the deportees who arrived yesterday had been convicted of crimes ranging from murder to robbery.
“Convictions included two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, […] theft, larceny, fraud and five drug convictions,” it said.
Nathalie Asher, ICE acting executive associate director, said in the statement that about 1,900 Cambodians, including 1,400 convicted criminals, in the United States are facing deportation.
“This most recent removal flight took 34 criminals, many convicted of the most heinous possible crimes,” Ms Asher said. “We will continue these efforts to carry out lawfully issued final orders of removal.”
Between 1975 and 2000, the US accepted 145,000 Cambodian refugees as part of an influx of Cambodians displaced by war.
The US has since begun deporting many of them convicted of crimes under a deal signed between both governments.