USAID Cuts Final-Year Budget for Returnee Program

USAID has cut the final year of its three-year funding to the Returnee Integration Support Program in an effort to shift its focus to other areas of Cambodia’s development, US Embassy Spokesman Jeff Daigle said Thursday.

The program was designed to support Cambodians deported from the US after completing sentences for aggravated felonies.

“In anticipation of possible lower levels of assistance funding in [fiscal year] 2008, the US government has strategically shifted funding priorities to emphasize and encourage Cambodia’s development,” Daigle wrote of the cut to the returnees project.

On Sept 26, 2005, USAID announced an $800,000 grant agreement with Veterans International Cambodia to launch the three-year RISP project.

Now the program will end this September rather than in September 2008 and its total funding has been cut to $577,000, Daigle said.

George Ellis, project manager of RISP, said the cut has had some serious consequences for his organization, including the loss of its “transitional house,” in Phnom Penh which houses and helps new arrivals with their adjustment to Cambodia.

“[On Wednesday] I closed the transitional house which had six people in it,” he said.

RISP assists 163 returnees in ways including picking them up from the airport, providing legal assistance, counseling, medical and employment support and help with chemical dependency, Ellis said. “This funding cut dramatically effects our ability to give Khmer lessons, computer les­sons, scholarship grants and business loans,” he said.

Ellis, who will be resigning April 30 because of the cuts, said he has had to let go eight of 17 staffers.

Sonec Than, 34, a returnee who works as deputy-director of RISP, said he feels that USAID should have kept its funding promise. “The returnees do need assistance and the programs do help these guys. The [returnees] who live here know nothing about this country,” he said.

Daigle said future cuts will be made to programs that focus on human trafficking, labor rights, and, after the 2008 national elections, programs assisting political party development.

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