Australia cancels flight scheduled to transport refugees to Cambodia
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Australia cancels flight scheduled to transport refugees to Cambodia

The $40 million Australia-Cambodia refugee deal hit a snag on Monday when the first charter flight to relocate detainees from Nauru to the Asian kingdom was cancelled. For now, the refugees who accepted cash offers have to wait in Nauru until further notice.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the flight was cancelled due to “logistical errors” contradicting activists’ claims that refugees refused to sign the transfer deal.

The Associated Press said only five refugees were ready to go after accepting cash offers between AU$10,000 to AU$15,000, citing Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Australia-based advocacy group Refugee Action Coalition. They are refugees are from Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), and Iran and have been segregated in Nauru detention camp, the report added.


March for asylum seekers in Melbourne. (Photo: Refugee Action Coalition)

Detainees in Nauru have been advised to agree to the deal as they will never ever be settled to Australia in accordance to the Tony Abbott’s Operations Sovereign Borders. Only genuine refugees will be resettled in Cambodia and the rest will be deported back to their countries of origin.

According to the immigration minister, “out of the 718 asylum seekers in Nauru from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, 485 had proven to be genuine refugees by the end of March. Another 83 had their claims rejected and another 150 had yet to be assessed.”


Protest against detention of asylum seekers in Canberra. (Photo: Refugee Action Coalition)

The Australian Government circulated a letter in Nauru last week on the benefits for refugees in Cambodia ,citing the country as progressive and democratic.

Cambodia is a diverse country with multiple nationalities, cultures and religions. It is a safe country, where police maintain law and order. It does not have problems with violent crime or stray dogs.

It also promotes Cambodia as a city “where opulent mansions sprout up alongside scenes of incredible poverty, one of the challenges facing the new arrivals will be to find their own place between these two poles.”

(MORE: The wrong kind of refugee: Australia exports its problems to Cambodia)

Benefits include children’s education, financial support including cash and a bank account, assistance in finding work, income support, language training, health insurance, and modern accommodation.

Cambodia is confused

Meanwhile, in Cambodia, Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the Cambodian government is baffled by the reported arrival of refugees on April 20. The Phnom Penh Post said, “Cambodian officials ‘were confused by the Australian side’, adding that no refugees would be allowed to arrive in Phnom Penh today, as was suggested by the Abbott government’s letter.”

Apparently, the Asian kingdom is not prepared to accommodate refugee arrivals with no resettlement plans. The country is yet to identify where any refugees would settle.

Human rights activists reiterated that the Australia-Cambodia deal initiated on September, 26 2014 was negotiated in secrecy without consultation with parliament or civil society in either of the two countries, and its terms were not made public until after the signing. The agreement has received widespread criticism from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as well as from politicians, lawyers, refugees, human rights advocates and members of the public in both countries.

Just after the signing, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said, “This is a worrying departure from international norms.We are seeing record forced displacement globally, with 87 per cent of refugees now being hosted in developing countries. It’s crucial that countries do not shift their refugee responsibilities elsewhere.”

“International responsibility sharing is the basis on which the whole global refugee system works. I hope that the Australian government will reconsider its approach,” he added.

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