(Phnom Penh): The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation was officially notified on 12 September 2017 of the reason of the United States Government for discontinuing the granting of visas to high ranking officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and their families, and placing Cambodia in the 11st of countries determined to be uncooperative, denying or unreasonably delaying the acceptance of its nationals, whom the United States seeks to expel.
Visa restrictions are the sovereign rights of the United States Government. However, the linking of these restrictions to the repatriation of Cambodian nationals is unreasonable and contradictory to the spirit of good cooperation between Cambodia and the United States over the years in this particular matter.
In light of fierce protests from Cambodian-American communities, Cambodians living in the country and some of the United States congressmen, all of whom have called on the governments of Cambodia and the United States to review the repatriation program, and based on Cambodian governments humanitarian policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs andInternational Cooperation forwarded to the Embassy of the United States of America in Phnom Penh through its Note No. 2671 dated 28 October 2016 a proposal for a temporary suspension of the·Memorandum between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Government of the United States for the Establishment and Operation of a Cambodia–United States Joint Commission on Repatriation dated 22 March 2002 as well as its Addendum .
The proposal sought to provide opportunity for both parties to discuss and amend the above–mentioned memorandum in line with the humanitarian, compassionate and human rights aspects as contained in the said memorandum with a view to avoiding family separation and encouraging full integration of the returnees into society. The key issues were also discussed during the meeting between His Excellency Senior Minister Prak Sokhonn, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and His Excellency John F. Kelly, Secretary for Homeland Security, held on 4 May 2017 in Washington DC, as well as during the Cambodia-US Bilateral Dialogue held on 7 July 2017in Phnom Penh.
It is noted that during this dialogue, the US side appreciated Cambodia’s cooperation extended in the repatriation process since 2012 and sought to improve the said memorandum, which no longer met the standards of the current policies of the United States.
In response to Cambodia’s proposed new terms on the repatriation program, the United States, through its Embassy’s Note No. 0641 dated 22 August 2017, conveyed to Cambodia a counter-draft in which references to humanitarian, compassionate and human rights aspects were simply deleted by the US. However, to express its goodwill in the continuation of cooperation in this matter, Cambodia, through the Ministry’s Note No. 2148 dated 31 August 2017, underlined its readiness to dispatch a delegation from the Ministry ofInterior to conduct an interview with the pending 26 cases in accordance with the terms of the existing memorandum.
Surprisingly, the Embassy of the United States through its Note 0703 dated 12 September 2017 notified that “the Department of State has ordered, effective on 13 September 2017, consular officers in Cambodia to discontinue granting Bl, 62 and Bl/62 visas to employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [andInternational Cooperation), with the rank of Director General and above, and their families.·
The reason for discontinuing the granting of visas made us even more surprised since Cambodia did not halt its cooperation nor deny I unreasonably delay accepting its nationals subject to be deported by the US.
Cambodia is still prepared to accept its nationals who will be deported by the US and will try by all means to ensure that those Cambodians will be successfully reintegrated into society and begin their new lives with the fullest decency and dignity.
Phnom Penh,14 September 2017