The Foreign Affairs Ministry announced on Tuesday that it would temporarily halt the acceptance of Cambodians deported from the U.S.—and then several hours later retracted the statement, saying the repatriation agreement would remain in effect while the countries discussed revisions.
The 2002 agreement, which allows for Cambodians who are permanent residents of the U.S. to be deported if convicted of a felony, “is still being implemented while both parties are discussing amendments,” ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said in a statement released late on Tuesday evening.
Earlier, Mr. Sounry had told reporters after a closed-door meeting between ministry and U.S. State Department officials that Cambodia had “temporarily halted” the implementation of the agreement between the two countries.
The government agreed to accept more than 30 Cambodians for repatriation from the U.S. earlier this year. Mr. Sounry told reporters on Tuesday that “after accepting the 34 Cambodians, we will not accept any more.”
Thirteen Cambodians have been deported from the U.S. under the repatriation agreement this year, following a lull in deportations that began in September. About 550 Cambodians have been deported since 2002, according to the Returnee Integration Support Center.
The government had finalized a revised draft of the 2002 agreement and would share it with the U.S. soon, Mr. Sounry said. Cambodia was seeking to revise the agreement on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, he said.
“There are difficulties in integrating in a new society,” he said. “Some of them don’t even speak Khmer.”
Phnom Penh and U.S.-based advocacy groups have lobbied the government to amend the agreement and push for an end to deportations.
“There has been criticism from Cambodians in Cambodia, Cambodian communities in the U.S. and the individuals who have been repatriated saying that it seems like they were punished twice,” Mr. Sounry said. “First is the imprisonment in the U.S. and second is the returning to Cambodia, coming to a country that one never knew, separating the individuals from their families.”
Many deported Cambodians were born in Thai refugee camps and immigrated to the U.S. with their families, who fled war in Cambodia.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Jay Raman said in an email on Tuesday that the U.S. had “no updates to provide on the status of the repatriation agreement.”
(Additional reporting by Ouch Sony)