The government has accepted a request from the Chinese Embassy to deport without trial more than 200 illegal immigrants from mainland China, officials said Wednesday.
National Police Director
General Hok Lundy said the Chinese—most of whom are being held at the Immigration Police headquarters near Pochentong Airport—will leave “very soon.”
He described the decision as being consistent with how Cambodian authorities have handled illegal Chinese nationals arrested in the past.
“It is standard practice that any arrested immigrants can be sent back to their own country as long as their government requests it,” Hok Lundy said by telephone.
He added, “It is the stance of the government to cooperate with the Chinese government.”
Chinese Embassy officials could not be reached Wednesday night.
A request from the embassy was formally delivered to top government officials late last week to deport the Chinese as quickly as possible. The Chinese Embassy has maintained the illegal Chinese should not be sent to jail and has discouraged any court proceedings.
Earlier Wednesday, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith and Khieu Sopheak, Interior Ministry spokesman, had said no decision would be made until Prime Minister Hun Sen returned from New York today.
Chea Sophara, first deputy governor of Phnom Penh, said Wednesday he approved of the government’s decision. “This is the best way to send them back, quick and easy,” Chea Sophara said. “Now there is no court case. If they stay here, there may be a problem with security.”
This represents a change of position for Chea Sophara, who last week said a trial was imperative if ringleaders of a network he described as systematically moving Chinese through Cambodia and on to third and fourth countries could be stopped.
The 200 Chinese were to appear in municipal court Monday, but the hearing was canceled. Article 29 of the immigration law dictates that foreigners who illegally enter Cambodia face three to six months in jail.
Hok Lundy was vague when asked if there was a legal responsibility to try the Chinese before deporting them. “I cannot figure out whether they have to face the trial or not, but this solution is the habit that we have used before.”
But two legal experts said Wednesday this move undermines Cambodia’s judiciary and immigration laws.
“Why would the government interfere? This is not very good. It is abuse [of the judiciary] by the government,” said Ang Eng Thong, head of the Cambodian Bar Association.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defender’s Project, said the decision to deport the Chinese without a court hearing probably was made because of ignorance of the immigration law. “This is a problem because some people don’t understand that only a judge can make these decisions,” he said.
“They confuse this with small things like the fines given for traffic violations. They think they have the power to do this,” he said.
(Reporting by Kevin Doyle, Im Sophea, Seth Meixner)