[Editor’s note: Nearly 200 deportees have been sent by the
US government to Cambodia since mid-2002, following convictions
of crimes and time served in US
detention. Their integration into Cambodia—for some a country they’ve
never seen—is a concern for their families. Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak is a
spokesman for the Ministry of Interior. He spoke to VOA Khmer by phone from Phnom Penh.]
Q. Cambodian immigrants and Cambodian-Americans are
concerned that family members who are deported by the US government could serve in Cambodia’s jails. Is this possible?
A. I would like to tell the Cambodian people that under the
constitution of the Kingdom
of Cambodia, the
government has an obligation to protect all Cambodian people, wherever they
live. Please don’t worry. The government has the obligation to protect all of
Q. Could you clarify the government procedure for managing
A. I would like to tell you that this is our blood
and we don’t want everybody who is our blood who have arrived in our Cambodia to
further suffer or face any other guilt. We must do everything to protect our
people after they are deported, and only our homeland can take care of them and
provide them shelter.
Q. How many Cambodian immigrants have arrived in Cambodia since the US
government began deporting them, and when did the US government start to deport them?
A. The US government has deported 189 Cambodian immigrants,
including one woman, within 19 times.
Q. How many Cambodian immigrants will be deported next?
A. We really don’t know how many Cambodian immigrants will
be deported, but after we agree with each other we respect a case-by-case
Q. What do you mean case by case?
A. First, our Cambodian people had not yet become US
citizens when they committed crimes over there. They must serve jail time over
there, and after they serve jail time over there then their Cambodian homeland
welcomes them, because they are still Cambodian citizens. So we need to check
case by case, whether they are our Cambodian citizens or not.
Q. What are the living conditions of those deportees in Cambodia?
A. Among the 189 deportees, 159 were picked up their
families and brought back to their homelands. Thirty-one other deportees have
still not yet found their families and are supported by the nongovernmental
organization called RISP (Returnee Integration Support Program). RISP is
helping them by providing education and seeking jobs for them to do.
Q. When did the Cambodian and US governments agree on the
deportation issue and what is the exchange for this?
A. I don’t think we have an exchange for this deportation
issue. I think they all still Cambodian because they haven’t changed their
citizenship yet. Even if they changed their citizenship, they are still
Cambodian. Our government does everything by the limit of the law. I really
don’t have any exchanges. If they made our people suffer, then we must have our
obligation to take care them.
Q. When did the Cambodian government and the US agree on the
A. I think it is since June 22, 2002, after a
Memorandum of Understanding between Cambodia
and the United States
government. I think that the deportations started then.
Q. Countries such as Vietnam
did not accept returnees. But Cambodia
did. Senio government advisor Om Yintieng has said that if the Cambodian
government did not accept the returness, the US
would have restricted or halted visas to Cambodians hoping to visit the US.
A. I have only one
answer, that if our people are being expelled, where should our people live?
They have their own homeland. So they can come back to their homeland. Khmer
has only one homeland. Our homeland is the Angkor
Q. What kind of support do they receive from the government?
A. We are trying hard
to let their families know about their presence in Cambodia, and then it will become
normal, because Cambodian people never let their relatives starve to death.