Illegal Chinese Immigrants Happy to Leave

More than 200 cramped Chi­nese illegal immigrants de­tained for weeks in poor conditions cheered from six military trucks as aircraft arrived Wed­nesday to carry them home.

They boarded the two Chinese government-chartered Southern China Airlines jets at the Phnom Penh military airbase and were gone. Officials would not say what fate awaited them.

Immigration Police Chief Prok Saroeun said 296 illegals were deported Wednes­day.

Officials claimed all of the more than 600 illegal Chinese immigrants apprehended since mid-August have now been sent back to China. Though police said each one violated immigration laws, none appeared before a judge. Plans to send the illegal immigrants to court in Septem­ber were scuttled after protests from the Chinese Embassy.

No statement from authorities has followed allegations by Phnom Penh First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara, government spokesman Khieu Kanha­rith and others that high-ranking officials protected a network that trafficked Chinese nationals through Cambodia en route Western nations. The ring alleg­edly yielded thousands of dollars monthly for unscrupulous officials, police and military generals have said. A government committee is investigating.

Police and military officials interviewed at the airbase said 297 Chinese arrived under heavy guard from locations in Phnom Penh and Kandal province around 11:30 am. One immigrant remained behind because he refused to give an address in China, said Prok Saroeun.

The Chinese nationals waited in trucks through intermittent rain storms for almost four hours before boarding the two planes. According to airbase personnel who witnessed the deportation, the Chinese had their discomfort compounded because they were not allowed off the vehicles and had no choice but to urinate inside the trucks.

When the six trucks set off to meet the awaiting planes shortly before 3 pm, the Chinese again began cheering and waved good-bye to their Cambodian captors.

“They were very happy to leave Cambodia,” Prok Saroeun said.

He said he doubted they would be punished in China.

“Why would they send two luxury airplanes to take them back to their homeland if they wanted to punish them?” said Prok Saroeun, pointing out the Chi­nese government could have sent simpler People’s Liberation Army aircraft to pick them up.

Wednesday’s deportation brings the total number of Chi­nese nationals reported by police to have been deported from Cambodia to 618.

However, for the third time reporters were prevented from entering the airbase, located adjacent to Pochentong Airport, to independently verify the number of immigrants police claim they deported.

Commander of Pochentong Military Airbase Kim Kongkea and Soeung Samnang, commander of the Air Force, claimed Wednesday that they did not have the authority to allow journalists enter.

“I am sorry. The government will not allow journalists enter the airbase during the deportation,” Soeung Samnang said by telephone.



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