Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday called on the U.S. to revise a repatriation agreement with Cambodia in order to allow Cambodians living under threat of deportation from the U.S. to stay with their families and avoid “a sad separation.”
The premier also reiterated that while Cambodia hoped to renegotiate the 2002 agreement with the U.S., the pact remained in effect.
“We are asking to amend the agreement for humanitarian and human rights reasons,” he told an audience at a graduation ceremony at Phnom Penh’s National Institute of Education.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry on Tuesday said the agreement, which allows for Cambodians who are legal residents of the U.S. to be deported if convicted of a felony, would be temporarily halted—though it retracted the claim several hours later.
A ministry spokesman said the government had finalized a revised draft and would share it with the U.S. soon.
About 550 Cambodians have been deported from the U.S. under the agreement since 2002, including 13 people this year.
Mr. Hun Sen said on Thursday that Cambodians living in the U.S. who violated the law and had already served their sentence should be allowed to stay with their families.
“When they send back the [former] prisoners to Cambodia, the wives and children continue living in the United States,” he said. “This is a sad separation.”
Kalvin Heng, who was deported from the U.S. in 2004, said it was encouraging to know the prime minister was speaking out about deportations.
“The government is looking at the issue and its effects through humanitarian eyes,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Matt Surrusco)