Unusual Exiles in The Kingdom of Cambodia

One off my earliest memories of visiting Cambodia was the sight of car ad nSUv with Californian, Texan and New Mexican licence platers. My brother told me that these vehicles where in fact illegal imports stolen on order by a network of Cambodian living on the Pacific cities of the USA.

Today those are a rare sight the Cambodian government issues it's own plates as the number of legitimate car imports clog the boulevards and streets of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap mostly from neighbouring Vietnam and Thailand.

Soon the major cities and roads will look no different from those in North America where once improverished Khmers idealised a decade ago. But for some in the Cambodia those will be memories of their home.

Since 2002 the Cambodian Government and the US Governemner signed a signed a treaty regulating deportation between the two countries. Cambodians who did not apply for United States citizenship were then liable to being deported even for the commission of misdemeanors, regardless of their green cards or marriage to US citizens. (from Wikipedia)

Starting with 600 deportees the number has increased and with new powers granted to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement department by the Trump administration such deportations are set to increase.

Many of those deported have lived their entire lives in the US only to instructed with little notice or picked up for minor crimes and placed on a plane to a country of their parents birth.

A recent article in ASIALIFE by the editor Marissa Carruthers talks the the most recent generation humiliated by an agreement by the respective governments. Their lives literally turned upside down and forced against their will to begin a life again where they rarely speak the language well and have no idea of the cultural norms having being used to living the American dream.

Bobby Orn, 42, who was sent to Cambodia in March 2011, agrees that adapting was his biggest challenge. “My Khmer wasn’t fluent. Everybody would laugh at me,” he says. Bobby landed in Cambodia after a two year stretch in prison for a string of drug offences and blue collar crime, followed by two year’s detention with ICE. “Life was hell when I first got here,” he says.

The article highlights the efforts of the NGO 1Love Cambodia of helping the exiles in Cambodia and with help of a law organisation in the US hope to overturn. Everyone admits it is a long shot particularly with the sound of America First coming from the White House it is very unlikely.

It's will become a more common story for other as poorer countries are forced into agreements with the Trump Administration to avoid punitive duties and imports on their goods seeking access to the worlds leading economy, some like the increasingly undemocratic Cambodia will just shrug as it falls deeper in regional power China grasp ignoring the plight of these new citizens and the wealth they could bring the kingdom.