Eight more Cambodians living in the U.S. have been deported to Cambodia under a 2002 repatriation agreement and arrived in Phnom Penh on Thursday, with more expected early next month, a U.S. Embassy spokesman and an NGO said.
A further five Cambodian nationals were also expelled from the U.S. last month, despite repeated calls from the Cambodian government for the agreement to be renegotiated and deportations to be made voluntary.
“A U.S. Department of Homeland Security repatriation flight arrived today in Phnom Penh,” embassy spokesman Jay Raman said in an email on Thursday.
Under the 2002 agreement, Cambodians who are permanent residents of the U.S. can be deported if they are convicted of a felony. The latest wave of deportations ends a several-month lull in repatriations that began in September.
Since 2002, 551 Cambodians have been deported under the repatriation agreement, including 41 last year, according to the Returnee Integration Support Center (RISC).
Cambodia was “deeply concerned about the plight of refugee families impacted by the deportation, as we believe in human rights and family unity,” Sieng Lapresse, a government adviser, told NBC News in an email in February.
“We believe Cambodian people should not be deported unless it is voluntary,” he said.
The latest group of deportees are from the U.S. states of Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and California, according to Bill Herod, a RISC adviser. Five of the eight men have relatives in Cambodia, he said.
Luka Meas, 48, who was deported to Cambodia from the U.S. in September 2011, said arriving in Phnom Penh was like being “on a different planet.”
“The day that I arrived was humid, very hot,” he said. “When I looked up at the sky it was like a different sky than the U.S.”
He has since learned to navigate the capital, improved his Khmer language skills and adjusted to the local cuisine, he said.