Cambodian spoken word artist and former Santa Ana resident Kosal Khiev, who is scheduled to perform at the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad this week, was detained by British immigration officials overnight after landing at Heathrow Airport on Saturday evening.
Khiev was invited to the Poetry Parnassus, which is part of the London 2012 Festival, as a representative from Cambodia to perform his spoken word pieces involving his struggles as a Cambodian refugee and his experiences with the American prison system. Khiev was placed in a detention cell at the airport on Saturday evening and later moved to Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre on Sunday, although his representatives at Studio Revolt say he had a valid visa.
Khiev has since been released, but immigration officials are reportedly withholding his passport pending further investigation. Oddly enough, he is scheduled to perform at the very same detention center where he was held later this week.
Khiev was born in a refugee camp during the brutal genocidal Khmer Rouge regime that led to the deaths of over 2 million Cambodians by forced labor, starvation and routine execution. His family was brought over to the United States by a church sponsor in North Carolina when he was a year old. Like many Cambodian refugees, his family ended up in a crime-ridden area, which in their case was the Minnie Street neighborhood in Santa Ana.
Khiev was involved in a gang fight at the age of 16, which led to an attempted murder conviction and 14 years in prison. While he was incarcerated, he found solace in spoken word poetry and perfected his craft behind bars.
Khiev, now 32 years old, was deported to Cambodia last year after he finished his sentence. Although the U.S. granted immunity to Cambodian refugees in the aftermath of the war (partially, some have argued, because of our role in the conflict), immigration laws strip away permanent residency status if an immigrant has committed a major crime.
Since arriving in Cambodia, Khiev has sought to raise awareness about deportation and incarceration issues through his spoken word poetry. He is currently the resident artist of the Phnom Penh-based collaborative media lab Studio Revolt.
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Khiev was selected from 6,000 nominated poets to represent Cambodia as a Cultural Olympiad at the London 2012 Festival. Poets from each country competing in the 2012 games are expected to come together at London's Southbank Centre, the UK's largest arts center, for a week-long literary festival leading up to the game's opening ceremony
Khiev told his manager Anida Yoeu Ali at Studio Revolt that he was told he was being detained for failing to give satisfactory answers to an immigration officer and for possible mistakes on his visa application. Ali said she helped Khiev fill out the application to ensure correctness, and disclosed his past in the process.
Southbank Centre released a statement saying Khiev was released on a temporary basis to carry out his part in the event and they are working with authorities to understand the reason for his detention.