US to deport more migrants from Cambodia

Rights groups criticise action against Vietnam War refugees who are now legal migrants in US

PHNOM PENH • The Trump administration is preparing to deport the largest group yet of legal Cambodian immigrants to the United States over the next few days, according to human rights groups and a US official.

The move continues a wave of deportation that has fallen heavily on refugees who fled the upheaval surrounding the Vietnam War.

They include an expected 46 people who are scheduled to arrive in Cambodia on Dec 19, the US official said.

Many of those being deported have few or no memories of Cambodia, as they were part of an exodus fleeing Khmer Rouge massacres and had been granted refugee status in the US.

Some actually have green cards and have been convicted of a felony while in the US, though often from many years ago.

"We are expecting more than 40 later this month," said Mr Bill Herod, founder of the Khmer Vulnerability Aid Organisation, a group based in Phnom Penh that works to integrate Cambodian deportees into the country.

When contacted, the US Embassy in Phnom Penh referred The New York Times to the Department of Homeland Security, whose officials did not respond to requests for comment.

President Donald Trump has continued to place harsh limits on immigration and asylum at the centre of his national policy, and over the past year, the White House has pushed to greatly expand the number of foreign residents of the US who are eligible for deportation.

That effort has included what US officials describe as a renewed push by the White House to negotiate with Vietnam to take back a category of refugees in the US - those who migrated before 1995 - who had been considered protected under an earlier deal.

Rights groups have criticised the new deportation push because many of those designated for deportation will be separated from families who remain in the US.

Others are the children of Cambodians who fled torture and massacre by the Khmer Rouge regime and are being returned to a developing country in which they have never lived.

During the Vietnam War, the US secretly bombarded Cambodia and dropped 2.7 million tonnes of explosives on the country in operations that some credit with partially enabling the Khmer Rouge's rise to power.

"Virtually all are the children of Khmer Rouge refugees," Mr Herod said of those being deported from the US. "Virtually all have a difficult time adjusting."

Cambodia's government began resisting the push for more deportations in 2017, citing human rights concerns. The Trump administration responded by classifying Cambodia as "recalcitrant" and imposing visa sanctions on some high-ranking government officials and their families. NYTIMES

Rights groups have criticised the new deportation push because many of those designated for deportation will be separated from families who remain in the US.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2018, with the headline 'US to deport more migrants from Cambodia'. Print Edition | Subscribe