The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh said on Thursday it had denied a request by the Foreign Affairs Ministry to renegotiate or temporarily suspend an agreement that allows for the repatriation of Cambodian citizens kicked out of the U.S.
Cambodia and the U.S. signed a memorandum of understanding in 2002 that establishes a joint commission on repatriation and principles to guide deportations.
“The Memorandum of Agreement remains in force and unchanged,” U.S. Embassy deputy spokesman David Josar said in an email.
“We continue to work with the Government of Cambodia on repatriations of its citizens,” he said. “We believe Cambodia should issue travel documents to its citizens and accept the return of those subject to final orders of removal.”
Since 2002, more than 500 Cambodian nationals who were lawful permanent residents of the U.S. have been deported under the agreement after receiving felony convictions, according to Bill Herod, an adviser to Returnee Integration Support Center, an NGO that helps deported Cambodian-Americans adjust to life in a country in which many of them have never lived.
In an October 28 letter, Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry asked to amend the current agreement and “suspend temporarily the implementation of the Memorandum and its Addendum until the process of amendment is completed.”
The amendment was needed “to improve internal process for receiving returnees from the United States and to implement properly and effectively the integration of the returnees into Cambodian society.”
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said he had no information about the ministry letter.
The practice of forcing convicted criminals from Cambodia, many who arrived in the U.S. as refugees and were born in Cambodia or Thai refugee camps, has faced criticism from activists who say that permanently separating returnees from their homes and family after they finish serving their prison time is tantamount to a life sentence.