Cambodians convicted of crimes in the United States yesterday urged both governments to restructure a 2002 agreement which allowed them to be deported.
Speaking at an event at Sunway Hotel on humanitarian issues surrounding the deportees, Kalvin Hang, 36, said returning to Cambodia was extremely difficult for him.
“When I arrived in Cambodia, I had nothing and had been separated from my parents and siblings,” said Mr Kalvin, who returned 13 years ago after serving six months in a US jail for assault.
“I don’t know why I was treated like that,” he said. “I had already served my jail time and was ready to change my ways and become a better person.
“Instead, I was separated from my family and sent to a country that I did not know.”
Many of the criminals deported from the US are the children of refugees who fled the country in the 1970s, with a lot of them born in refugee camps in Thailand before growing up in the US.
This year, Cambodia has agreed to receive 34 deportees, however only eight have been repatriated so far. From 2002 until last year, 549 people were forced to return to Cambodia.
Prime Minister 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 separating convicts from their families is inhumane.
Khan Hin, 33, who was repatriated to Cambodia about four years ago, said yesterday that his arrival in Cambodia was a culture shock and the policy needs to change.
“I did not know how to speak the Khmer language,” said Mr Khan, who served 10 years in a US jail for theft and weapons possession, and now works in a tattoo shop in Phnom Penh.
“I was depressed, not living life, and missing my family back in America.”
Ros Chantrabot, a guest speaker at yesterday’s conference from the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the US had not factored in human rights in the 2002 agreement.
“The US government has never valued humanitarian values with respect to keeping families together,” he said.
“It is inhumane that they already served jail time and then they get deported away from their family.”
Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the government, said at the conference that negotiations over the agreement is ongoing between the two countries.
“This debate is not a political issue, it is about human rights,” Mr Siphan said. “We are still negotiating.”
Nanda Pok, a dual Cambodian-American citizen and executive director of Women for Prosperity, said more programmes are needed to aid deportees upon their return.
“They should have counselling programmes in Cambodia to help returnees,” she said.
US embassy spokesman David Josar said via email that meetings are ongoing between the two countries over the issue, with the most recent held on October 13.
“All countries have an international obligation to accept the return of their citizens,” he noted.
“The current cooperation is in line with international obligations and US immigration.”
Chum Sounry, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said a new agreement has yet to be tabled. “Progress has been made, but no agreement has been reached,” he said.