Phnom Penh businessman Seng Veng Hong said he may never again see the thousands of dollars he has been spending to feed and provide health care for the 200-plus illegal Chinese immigrants detained since August.
But Seng Veng Hong said as an ethnic Chinese-Cambodian, he felt obliged to take care of the Chinese nationals when the Ministry of Interior ran out of funds.
“I am Chinese too, and I feel sorry for those being held there, so we decided to provide the food and supplies,” the self-described import-export business owner said Wednesday. “This is not a mission, I just want to help as much as I can.”
Teng Savong, deputy chief of National Police, said last week that the Ministry of Interior had passed responsibility for the detained Chinese on to Seng Veng Hong when the ministry was unable to cover food costs.
“We allowed the man to provide the daily meals because the government has no money to pay for this. We looked for the someone who could help us,” Teng Savong said.
According to Seng Veng Hong, the immigrants eat between 125 and 150 kg of rice, vegetables and meat each day. They also need medical care and to make telephone calls to family members in mainland China.
“At the moment it has cost me a couple of thousand dollars already,” said Seng Veng Hong, adding his agreement is that the immigrants will repay him when they get back to China. “But will they send back the money to me? I don’t know,” he said.
Commenting on the arrest Monday of 25 more illegal Chinese immigrants in Chamkar Mon district of Phnom Penh, Seng Veng Hong said he would assist the government in this case also if requested. “I have not yet visited [the 25 illegal Chinese immigrants], but I will help the government if they ask me. I have already paid for 225—another 25 will not matter,” he said.
He discounted claims he is personally profiting from helping the immigrants. “Some people say I earn money from this. But I have received nothing yet.”
Teng Savong said the arrangement was a good answer to an expensive logistical problem. He also noted the arrangement has the approval of the Ministry of Interior, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng and the Chinese Embassy.
“We needed a pipeline to provide meals and deportation services as our government has no budget to pay for it,” Teng Savong said.
Ban Sareun, deputy chief of the municipal immigration police department, added that the arrangement with Seng Veng Hong helped ensure communications were maintained between China, the Chinese Embassy and the immigrants.
But two advisers for Sar Kheng said last week they were unaware of the arrangement with Seng Veng Hong. “I doubt it very much if Sar Kheng would agree to this,” said one official.
A senior Chinese diplomat said Tuesday he also was unaware of the arrangement.
“Usually the police who seized these people have the responsibility to feed these people. Maybe he has some ties with Cambodian officials,” the diplomat said.