11 December 2011

Returnee Integration Support Center [a peek into Daniel's work]

here is re-post of a story that Daniel wrote for the MCC Cambodia blog about his work. To learn more about RISC and how you can support their work, visit their website at www.risccambodia.org

[RISC case worker, Mr. Sarith (on the left), meets with a returnee in Battambang Province, Cambodia]

Returnee Integration Support Center
Posted on December 8, 2011 by MCC Cambodia

The worst of the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia’s civil war ended more than 35 years ago. But, the impact of this catastrophe has left fissure lines that continue to stretch out to today. One such line runs from Cambodia, through Thailand, to the USA, and back to Cambodia, where the repercussions continue to be felt.

During the Khmer Rouge-era, Thai refugee camps were filled with Cambodian adults and children fleeing violence and starvation. During the 1980s, the American government responded to this crisis by accepting nearly 200,000 Cambodian refugees.

While the genocide and hunger was safely behind them, for many members of the Cambodian American refugee community, the struggle was not over. Rural Cambodian farmers, often with limited English abilities, were now forced to learn how to live in American cities. With limited options, many of the refugee children learned from – and assimilated into – the local culture of America’s inner cities. Unfortunately, some of these children (now young adults), found their way into the US criminal justice system, serving time for crimes committed.

But the story doesn’t end here. Although these individuals were legally admitted as refugees, and many of them spent almost their entire youth growing up in the US (some having been born in Thai refugee camps shortly before immigration), they were not automatically considered US citizens.

In the 1990′s, US immigration law changed: Now, all non-US citizens with felony convictions would be deported. In the early 2000s, Cambodia began to accept deportations and the removals began. The law is retroactive, applies after serving time in jail – no matter how long ago – and gives no room for judicial review, or consideration of current contributions to society.
The result has been tragic. Families are torn apart, bread-winners taken from their jobs, and returnees (some with mental disabilities) are placed in a country where they often lack the necessary cultural or language knowledge to survive – a second traumatic relocation. Since 2002, nearly 300 individuals have been deported to Cambodia, with thousands more expected. They can never return to the US.

In response, a local organization has been established, called the Returnee Integration Support Center (RISC). RISC provides cultural orientation, temporary housing, job assistance, legal monitoring, emergency medical support and – most importantly – a center where the returnee community can gather together, in addition to receiving many other forms of support.

For the last 5 years, MCC Cambodia has partnered with RISC. We provide funding and advisor support, assist the organization with capacity building, fundraising, and organizational development, and have posted members on its Board of Directors. This has been been one of MCC Cambodia’s most important partnerships: helping to meet a need that falls outside of classic development sectors (HIV/AIDS, gender, environment, etc.), and helping to support and empower a unique and vulnerable community that would otherwise fall through the cracks. To learn more about RISC, visit their website at www.risccambodia.org.

Studio Revolt has produced a powerful short film featuring exiled Cambodian-Americans. View the movie here



adriana said...

love the video! thanks for sharing on your interesting work!

amie said...

This added so much depth and insight to our many conversations about our jobs. A great read - and proud of all your hard work, Dan.