Five Cambodians expelled from the U.S. arrived in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said, as Cambodia continued to call for revisions to the 2002 agreement with the U.S. that allowed their deportation.
“Five Cambodian citizens were returned to Cambodia today by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” embassy spokesman Jay Raman said in an email. “The returnees were subject to lawful removal orders issued by a U.S. immigration judge.”
The deportees—including four from a high-profile group of eight Cambodians living in Minnesota for whom their families and refugee advocates have fought for months in the hopes of halting their deportations—are the first to be repatriated since September.
The five men are among more than 30 Cambodians the government said last month it would accept for repatriation from the U.S.
Last month, Sieng Lapresse, a government adviser, told NBC News in an email that Cambodia was “deeply concerned about the plight of refugee families impacted by the deportation, as we believe in human rights and family unity.”
“We look forward to in-depth discussion with the US government in order to update the [2002 agreement] and rectify this situation. We believe Cambodian people should not be deported unless it is voluntary,” he said.
In 2002, Cambodia signed a bilateral agreement allowing the U.S. to deport Cambodians who are legal permanent U.S. residents if they have been convicted of a felony.
Since 2002, more than 500 Cambodians have been deported from the U.S., according to NGO Returnee Integration Support Center. Many were born in Thai refugee camps and immigrated to the U.S. as children, their families having fled war and genocide in Cambodia.
Kalvin Hang, who was deported from the U.S. in 2004, said he and his group, 1Love Cambodia, which advocates against deportations, planned to offer emotional support and help to the five men as they become familiar with their new settings.
“Being around us is reminding them of home,” Mr. Hang said. “We can always share our experience with them and let them know how to get on and move on while in Cambodia.”