The government has stopped issuing new travel documents allowing Cambodians to be deported from the U.S., an official said on Thursday.
An advocate added that the halt had been in place since October, when the Foreign Affairs Ministry expressed its desire to revise the two countries’ repatriation agreement.
“The Cambodian government has halted issuance of any further travel documents until a mutual and fair negotiation between the U.S. and Cambodian governments takes place,” said Kalvin Hang, a member of advocacy group 1Love Cambodia, on Wednesday. The group has asked officials to amend the 2002 agreement in order to halt the separation of Cambodians from their U.S. families.
Keo Vannthan, spokesman of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, confirmed on Thursday that Cambodia had stopped issuing travel documents to Cambodian residents of the U.S. who face deportation due to felony convictions.
“Currently, we have postponed issuing travel documents for repatriation,” Mr. Vannthan said.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry was discussing amendments to the agreement with the U.S., Mr. Vannthan said. He referred other questions to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, whose spokesman Chum Sounry did not respond to emailed questions and could not be reached by telephone on Thursday.
Cambodians facing deportation cannot be sent without Cambodian officials confirming their citizenship and issuing official documents. Since 2002, more than 560 Cambodians have been deported from the U.S. after having served prison sentences.
“The purpose of bilateral negotiations would be to rectify humanitarian concerns with the current [agreement], and make necessary revisions to bring it in line with international human rights standards,” Mr. Hang, who was deported from the U.S. in 2004, said in a message.
1Love Cambodia hoped the U.S. government would “work with the Cambodian government to revise this [agreement] in the best interests of family unity and human rights,” he added.
Twenty-eight Cambodians, whom Mr. Hang said had already been issued travel documents, have been repatriated since October, according to NGO Returnee Integration Support Center.
In April, Mr. Sounry told reporters that Cambodia would temporarily halt the acceptance of Cambodians deported from the U.S. But several hours later, he retracted the statement. The repatriation agreement would remain in effect while the countries discussed revisions, he said.
The ministry first expressed its desire to amend the agreement in October, addressing a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh in which the ministry requested that the agreement be temporarily suspended until it was updated.
“Discussions with the Cambodian government are ongoing,” Arend Zwartjes, U.S. Embassy spokesman, said in an email on Thursday.