Eleven more Cambodian ex-convicts deported from the US arrived on Thursday, a result of the landmark deal between the US and Cambodia that could potentially affect 1,400 Cambodians living in the US.
“All the deportees are eager and anxious to get on with their lives,” said Bill Herod, coordinator of the Returnees Assistance Project, who met with the deportees on Thursday. “I think this will be an easy group to work with.”
Although the deportees are not now allowed to leave the Pochentong Foreign Immigration Department, “The Cambodian government is treating them very well…. They are helping them fill out forms and are being very helpful,” Herod said.
An official with the department, who spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the 11 deportees were being held at the government facility. However, the official said, the deportees will be freed once their family members are located.
Nine deportees have family in Battambang, one has family in Preah Vihear and another has family in Phnom Penh, the official said.
One source who has worked with the deportees in the past downplayed their detention.
“[The government] needs to find the deportees’ families before they send them out in the wilderness,” the source said Thursday.
The 11 who arrived Thursday are the second group sent back to Cambodia under an agreement signed in March. The pact allows the US to return ex-convicts without US citizenship to Cambodia after they have finished their prison sentences.
In late June, the US deported the first six to Cambodia under the agreement. The six—all convicted in the US of aggravated felonies—had lived in the US for 20 to 30 years.
So far, two of the original six deportees have found steady employment in Phnom Penh, Herod said.
Several immigrant groups in the US have protested the Cambodian deportations as unfair, and some legislators in the US have continued attempts to block the deportations.
Some Cambodian government officials have also expressed dismay at the agreement, saying Cambodia only agreed to it because the US threatened to stop issuing visas to Cambodians.
“[The US] is seriously concerned with the challenges this process is to the Cambodian government,” said one US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official added that the US is giving the Cambodian government $100 per deportee for processing fees.
The official said another 11 people are scheduled to be returned to Cambodia “in about a month.”