More than 100 Chinese nationals were secretly deported Monday, the beginning of an operation to send all detained illegal Chinese immigrants back to China, immigration and municipal police officials said.
Bith Kim Hong, deputy chief of Municipal Police, said 105 illegal immigrants were deported by plane from Pochentong Military Airbase on Monday morning. The Southern China Airlines jet was chartered by the Chinese Embassy, officials said.
“These Chinese are being deported to the provinces from which they came,” said Bith Kim Hong, adding Chinese Embassy officials are helping arrange the deportations according to the immigrants’ home provinces.
One of the top Immigration Police officers based at Pochentong Airport said Monday that all Chinese immigrants in police detention will be returned to China shortly.
Some 286 Chinese nationals are still in custody.
Monday’s deportation came on a national holiday. The furtive operation marked the second time in recent weeks that reporters have been prevented from entering the military airfield to independently verify police assertions that Chinese immigrants had left the country.
At the first clandestine deportation from the same airbase on Sept 23, officials claimed that 217 Chinese were sent home on two chartered jets, but refused to provide passenger lists or proof of how many actually boarded two Southern China Airlines planes.
Kim Kongkea, commander of Pochentong Military Airbase, refused requests Monday from journalists seeking entrance to the airbase.
The airbase commander claimed he was not aware of the Chinese departure from his airport.
Chea Sophara, first deputy governor of Phnom Penh, launched a campaign in mid-August against an illegal Chinese immigrant smuggling network operating in Cambodia.
According to Chea Sophara, the smuggling operation is protected by high-ranking government officials.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith also has said some officials are putting profits in their pockets by assisting the network trafficking Chinese nationals.
So Vandy, deputy chief of Municipal Immigration Police, said Monday that 37 illegal Chinese were brought Monday morning to the Immigration Police Headquarters for deportation back to China.
However, So Vandy refused to make any further comment, stating the deportation was a Ministry of Interior affair.
According to a Kandal province, Kien Svay district police official, 68 illegal Chinese immigrants—part of a group of 95 detained in a villa in the district—also were part of the 105 sent back to China’s Guangzhou province Monday.
Police officers involved in the deportation of the illegal Chinese have been warned not to speak about the police operation to the media, the Kien Svay official said.
“This is government work and our senior officers have banned us from talking about the deportation because they are afraid of hurting relations with China,” the police official said.
Bith Kim Hong said the 105 were made up of two groups of arrested immigrants—68 from Kien Svay district and 37 from Phnom Penh.
Air force personnel stationed at the military airbase Monday said the 105 Chinese immigrants—94 Chinese men and 11 Chinese women—were brought to the airbase on three trucks at around 9:30 am Monday.
Escorted by two truckloads of armed men, the group departed for China on a Southern China Airlines jet at 10:55 am, they said.
Chea Sophara said Monday he had not been informed of the deportation but welcomed the move, noting it would free up space for authorities to make more arrests of illegal immigrants.
He added that those investigating the case should not lose sight of the goal of catching the ringleaders of the smuggling operation.
“We must search and investigate who [the top ranking official] is behind this,” Chea Sophara said.