Ministry Working on Revision of US Repatriation Agreement

In an effort to keep Cambodians threatened with deportation in the U.S. with their families, the Foreign Affairs Ministry plans to offer the U.S. a revised version of the countries’ repatriation agreement, an official said on Tuesday.

The ministry has been reviewing the 2002 memorandum of understanding (MoU), which allows for the deportation of Cambodians convicted of felonies in the U.S., on the basis of international and human rights law, said Ouch Borith, a secretary of state at the ministry.

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn speaks during an annual meeting at the ministry’s headquarters in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Emil Kastrup/The Cambodia Daily)

Mr. Borith said the ministry wanted to amend the MoU because those who are deported “are our Cambodian blood” and because Cambodians have long been “fed up” with having their families separated.

“Cambodian people have had just about enough of this, so do not continue to allow more family separation,” he said.

Mr. Borith told reporters during the first day of a two-day annual meeting headed by Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn at the ministry’s headquarters in Phnom Penh that it had received suggestions from Cambodian people who lived in the U.S. and also from their relatives.

The ministry was evaluating each section of the MoU and would request that the U.S. cooperates and makes appropriate changes, Mr. Borith said.

“We will send it soon to the U.S. for review,” he said.

The ministry requested in October that the agreement be temporarily suspended until it was amended “to implement properly and effectively the integration of the returnees into Cambodian society.” The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh said at the time that the MoU remained “in force and unchanged.”

In an email on Tuesday, U.S. Embassy deputy spokesman David Josar said the Cambodian government had informed the embassy of its desire to renegotiate aspects of the MoU, which includes a provision allowing either country to convene a bilateral commission to discuss repatriation policy issues.

A commission was expected to convene in the coming months, he said.

More than 500 Cambodians have been deported from the U.S. since 2002, according to the Returnee Integration Support Center, an NGO that assists Cambodians upon their arrival in the country. Many returnees were born in Thai refugee camps, migrated to the U.S. as children and had never lived in Cambodia.

Earlier this month, officials said Cambodia would accept more than 30 of its citizens who were slated for deportation from the U.S., while also reiterating the government’s wish to revise the repatriation agreement on humanitarian grounds.

A group that has been lobbying for an amended MoU, 1Love Cambodia, called for protests against the deportations.

(Additional reporting by Matt Surrusco)

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