[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 you.
Q. Could you clarify the government procedure for managing deportees?
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 policy.
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 deportation issue?
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 or Laos 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 homeland.
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.