By SOPHENG CHEANG, PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Thirty Cambodians who had been living in the United States arrived in Cambodia on Wednesday after being deported under a U.S. law that allows the repatriation of immigrants who have been convicted of felonies and have not become American citizens.
The group is the latest to be sent to Cambodia under a 2002 bilateral agreement. More than 500 other Cambodians have already been repatriated.
The program is controversial because it breaks up families, and in some cases the returnees have never lived in Cambodia, having been born to refugees who fled to camps in Thailand to escape the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime that ruled Cambodia in 1975-79.
Cambodia, which has rocky relations with the U.S., informally suspended the program in 2017 but it resumed this year.
Critics of the deportation policy say many of those convicted fell into crime as a result of social dislocation and culture shock. They say the returnees have difficulty integrating into Cambodian society because many have spent most of their lives in the United States.
Gen. Prok Maytola, a senior police officer at the Interior Ministry overseeing the return program, said all 30 returnees who arrived Wednesday are male. He said they were deported from the U.S. after having completed prison terms there.
After arriving in Cambodia, members of the group were sent to stay temporarily with a non-governmental organization funded by the U.S. government, and will receive training about Cambodian law and culture, and help in looking for a job.