The government agreed Tuesday to take six convicted felons from the US in a landmark deal that begins the eventual return of some 1,400 Cambodians, officials said.
No schedule has been set for the arrival of the first deportees, according to Cambodian government spokesman General Khieu Sopheak.
The agreement, reached Tuesday in a meeting between US Embassy charge d’affaires Alex Arvizu and co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, includes guarantees from the US not to send too many deportees at once, Khieu Sopheak said.
“Sar Kheng asked the US not to send hundreds of cases at one time, because we will have difficulty,” he said.
The returnees will likely spend their first few days in Cambodia in a government center in Phnom Penh before they are relocated throughout the country to places where they may have friends or family members.
The returnees were kicked out of the US because they were convicted of an aggravated felony and never fulfilled the requirements for becoming US citizens. The names and criminal histories of the deportees have not yet been released.
Similar cases involving other countries have already lead to thousands of deportations elsewhere, but extra consideration was required for Cambodia because many of the Cambodians living in the US arrived as refugees without paperwork or documentation of their home, according to US Embassy spokesman Franklin Huffman.
A memorandum of understanding reached in March between the US government and the Cambodians established a method for handling each of the 1,400 Cambodians who qualified for deportation.
The government also asked that deportees have as much information as possible to explain where each of them comes from to make it easier to return them to their families’ ancestral homes, Khieu Sopheak said.
Most of the deportees have spent decades living in the US after fleeing Cambodia at a young age, according to a human rights group in Washington.
The deportees will be given a small amount of financial aid from the US government when they return, Khieu Sopheak said.