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Background Information for Potential Donors
According to U.S. law a non-citizen/resident with a felony conviction cannot become a US citizen and therefore legally can be deported back to their country of origin. In 2002 the United States government signed an agreement with the Cambodian government to accept Cambodian deportees from the US. Many of these people were born in refugee camps or were quite young when they came to the United States.
Most of these Cambodian refugees have felt all their lives like “strangers in a strange land” and have lived very marginal existences. Most of these refugee families were very poor, came from rural provinces, experienced extreme trauma and loss during the time of the Khmer Rouge and resided in refugee camps for prolonged periods of time prior to relocating to the United States.
When Cambodian refugees arrived in the US they frequently aggregated in low income areas and often faced problems related to class, race and religion. Due to the psychological trauma most families experienced at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, the culture shock of two very different societies, poverty, a language barrier and absence of religious institutions/support (Theravada Buddhism), some young people found themselves in very uncomfortable situations and neighborhoods. As a result, some joined gangs, quit high school, used drugs/alcohol, committed crimes and/or basically gave up.
Although the above description of returnees may sound grim and certainly simplifies a very complicated issue, it does not change the fact that many people who have been deported to Cambodia are experiencing further psychological trauma. Some are adjusting well, however others are having serious problems “making sense” of their present lives, which leaves them marginal once again and with fewer options than ever.
Given the above information, it is important to note that about 40% of the Cambodian community in the United States has not obtained US citizenship. This makes people who commit a felony vulnerable to deportation, which will drastically change not only their lives but also that of their entire family. RISC plans to work actively with the Cambodian community to help educate people about the risks of non-citizen status and perhaps help people interested in obtaining their citizenship to navigate the US immigration system, which can be quite daunting.
RISC is a voluntary program; returnees (deportees) can participate, or not, as they see fit. Deportees are Cambodian nationals and RISC has no legal hold and cannot mandate or make obligatory participation in any component of its program. The mission of RISC is to help people who are deported make the difficult transition from US society to Cambodian society. This means to help deportees become independent and live safe and healthy lives, i.e., to find and maintain work, learn or improve their Khmer language ability, establish and keep a crime and drug free life and learn the rules of a very different culture.
The following is a brief description of the history of RAP (Returnee Assistance Program) including how it evolved to become RISP and RISC(Returnee Integration Support Program/Center). The purpose is to inform interested donors and other possible stakeholders regarding the program and its many assets and needs.
Efforts to assist Cambodians deported from the US began in June 2002 as a private initiative to respond to some of the immediate needs of the first six returnees (housing, orientation, assistance in finding jobs,etc.). Mr. Bill Herod, a Protestant minister, approached numerous NGOs in an attempt to encourage them to establish a formal project to assist returnees to adjust to their new country of residence. No NGO or government agency was willing to accept responsibility for such a complex and potentially volatile project. As a result, Mr. Herod utilized the donated facilities of a small guest-house and a drop-in center was established where returnees could visit, read the papers,watch TV, learn about job opportunities and get some very basic orientation. Over time, this informal activity expanded into the Returnee Assistance Project (RAP) funded by several NGOs, private donors and, eventually, USAID (2004).
Over the years, RAP built up a small team of capable and dedicated program staff – most of whom were returnees. In addition, RAP also benefited greatly from the work of several psychologists, social workers and other professionals who donated their time. As the demands on RAP services continued to expand due to new groups of arrivals, all involved realized serious funding was required in order to move beyond the ad hoc arrangement of the early years and develop a professional service that helped deportees integrate into Cambodian society.
Veterans International (VI) submitted a proposal based on a Request for Applications (RFA) issued by USAID. This proposal was accepted by USAID under the new name, Returnee Integration Support Program (RISP)and VI assumed management of RISP on October 1, 2005. In February of 2007 USAID de-funded RISP. As a result RISP made redundant about half of its staff and eliminated a number of services in order to continue providing services to returnees. RISP now has become a local NGO under the name of RISC (Returnee Integration Support Center). In 2010 USAID renewed its funding for this newly localized organization.
The Services and Policies page outlines programming offered by RISC. However,there are a number of pressing needs that have been mentioned above that deserve elaboration. There are almost no mental health services in Cambodia provided by local nationals. If it were not for a few NGOs, mental health would be all but ignored. Chemical dependency counseling and rehabilitation services in Cambodia are virtually non-existent. However,there are serious and growing problems with drugs/alcohol in Cambodia. RISC offers educational and preventative classes but has no experts or any structured formal programming to be able to provide therapy.
Based on strategic planning sessions with the entire RISC staff it became clear that there were a number of new programs that could be of great benefit to returnees and would be consistent with the RISC mission. The financial request to support various programs listed below has been divided into two groups; projects that do not demand a large infusion of money to design and implement and projects that do.
- Small scholarship grants;
- Small business grants;
The above grants would permit RISC to provide to returnees opportunities for study and set up a small business. Donations from $20.00 on up would be greatly appreciated and utilized to improve the lives of many returnees. Small amounts of money can be put to use quickly and their benefit could be experienced immediately.
- A grant to develop a culturally appropriate program to help returnees deal with their alcohol and drug dependency problems.
- A grant to develop programming for severely mentally ill deportees and training for local nationals to implement the program;
In order to be able to design and implement the above two programs RISC will need a substantial amount of financial support. These programs and training do not exist in Cambodia, therefore there is no template.
If RISC could obtain funds for the above programs it would greatly increase the ability to support returnees to integrate, adapt and function better in Cambodian society and minimize the ongoing trauma of deportation.