A REFUGEE from Syria has become the seventh person to choose to resettle in Cambodia from Australia’s immigration detention centre on Nauru under an AUD55 million (US$40.8 million) deal struck in 2014, say reports.
The Phnom Penh Post reported on Thursday that Cambodian authorities confirmed Australia’s government had “quietly” transferred another refugee to the Southeast Asian nation – one of only two in the region that has ratified the UN Refugee Convention.
The man was reportedly moved from Nauru six weeks ago to Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in Asia. Policy Officer at the Refugee Council of Australia Asher Hirsch told Asian Correspondent that the deal with Cambodia “is not a genuine example of regional cooperation.”
“Rather than cooperating within our region on refugee protection, this deal represents another example of Australia shirking its responsibilities to its neighbours,” he said.
A spokesman from Australia’s immigration department told the Australian Associated Press this week that, “This arrangement provides refugees with the support they need to integrate into the Cambodian community and build new lives.”
The International Organisation for Migration, which received AUD15 million (US$11.1 million) under the deal, told The Phnom Penh Post it was “still providing support services to refugees who voluntarily opt to come to Cambodia from Nauru.”
In June 2015, Phnom Penh received five refugees from Nauru, most of them from Burma (Myanmar) and Iran. Even the Cambodian government would come to describe the deal as a “failure.” Most returned home to likely persecution from a country where prospects to build a new life are limited.
Healthcare and employment are difficult to access and the government offers no social programs to help integrate refugees into the community despite receiving AUD40 million (US$30 million) in aid as part of the deal.
“Refugees need safety, security and the ability to rebuild their lives with dignity,” said Hirsch. “The Cambodia deal is not a sustainable solution for refugees, with four refugees sent there already deciding to leave Cambodia due to difficulties settling in the country.”
Moreover, Cambodia’s allegedly democratic government is itself increasingly repressive. Its deputy prime minister recently threatened to “smash the teeth” of members of the opposition if they publicly protested electoral results.
Australia’s offshore detention policy has long been criticised by the United Nations and human rights groups, including the country’s own national human rights commission.
Last week the The Guardian obtained working documents from Australia’s other offshore detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, which revealed a year-long plan to progressively make the site more inhospitable for detainees.
Documents from Broadspectrum who manage the site and security contractor Wilson Security show that the administration sought to pressure the 829 remaining detainees to resettle in PNG or abandon their asylum claims.
Australia’s immigration department said this week that: “The governments of Australia and Cambodia remain committed to the arrangement which allows refugees in Nauru to settle in Cambodia.”
“Instead of attempting to escape our obligations to those who seek our protection, Australia must end the cruelty of offshore detention and bring these people to safety in Australia,” said Hirsch.