Government defensive over Cambodian talk of no more refugees

It comes amid reports Cambodia is not keen to accept any more refugees.



The Federal Opposition says the Government has questions to answer.


Cambodia reportedly does not plan to accept any more refugees under a resettlement deal between the two countries.


Under the deal, Cambodia agreed to accept refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centre on Nauru in exchange for a $40-million boost in aid funding from Australia.


The Australian Government also allocated an extra $15.5 million dollars for resettlement costs.


Only four refugees have taken up the voluntary offer to be resettled.


Now, Cambodia’s Interior Ministry has reportedly told The Cambodian Daily newspaper the country has no plans to accept any more.


Opposition Immigration spokesman Richard Marles has told Sky News the Australian Government has explaining to do.


“Right now, it seems to me, if Cambodia is the Government’s best option, then, in my view at least, they appear to have given up on the whole question of finding resolution for those people. And that’s what’s really wrong with the circumstances of those who are on Nauru for that matter, and, for that matter, those who are on Manus. But this is an expensive joke. We ought to hear Immigration Minister Peter Dutton standing up and explaining what is actually going on with Cambodia. Is Cambodia a real option for this Government or not?”


But Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has rejected the claims.


“Well, that is not correct. You’re relying on an alleged statement of one official. I had a very positive meeting with foreign minister Hor Namhong in Kuala Lumpur recently on the sides of the East Asia Summit, and we had a very productive, constructive discussion about how Cambodia can continue to work in partnership with the Australian government and others.”


She says the Cambodian government has indicated its commitment to the deal.


“Cambodia is committed to a regional solution and has committed, through a memorandum of understanding with the Australian Government, to resettle some asylum seekers who are found to be genuine refugees. And Cambodia is an aspiring country. It wishes to increase its GDP. It wishes to harness the skills of foreign workers. And in this way, they can resettle people into Cambodia and help boost their GDP.”


Joyce Fu is executive director of a not-for-profit human-rights organisation calling itself CornerLink, which works in Cambodia.


Ms Fu says the deal was flawed from the beginning.


“Because the whole deal is against our international refugee obligations, so that’s why the government wants to keep this secret. And because of the potential corruption (in Cambodia) and also the strong (objection) from the community in Cambodia.”