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Australia's Cambodia refugee resettlement plan 'a failure'
Sydney Morning Herald - April 3, 2016
"You could say it is a failure but at least we relieved them from the camp," Phay Siphan said, referring to five refugees who agreed to make the journey from Nauru to one of Asia's poorest nations last year.
Mr Phay Siphan also admitted that Cambodia has not done much to help the refugees integrate into Cambodian society "because they are just temporarily looking for a third country to move to."
"Refugee status doesn't mean they want to move to Cambodia for good," he told Al Jazeera's 101 East program. "They want to be in Australia or they want to be in a third country with more GDP – like land of promises – like the US or Europe."
Three of the five refugees who arrived in Cambodia under the deal have returned to their countries of origin and two remaining in the capital Phnom Penh are deeply unhappy and also want to quit the country.
Mr Phay Siphan, spokesman for both the Cambodian government and council of ministers, said Cambodia "doesn't have social services like ultra-modern governments" to support refugees, contradicting Australian officials on Nauru who had portrayed the south-east Asian nation as a sort of developing nation utopia, with plenty of job opportunities and no violent crime. "We don't have that much money to support them," he said.
As well as giving Cambodia $40 million to sign the controversial agreement, Australia also allocated $15 million for the International Organisation for Migration to take care of the refugees for 12 months.
But under the agreement the refugees would then be on their own in Cambodia with no opportunity to go to any country other than their own, where they have been found to have a credible fear of persecution.
Fairfax Media revealed in March that 28 year-old Rohingya Muslim refugee Mohammad Rashid felt abandoned and feared he would die in Cambodia, prompting denials by both Australia and Cambodia that he was being poorly treated. One Cambodian government official even called him "a liar."
An Iranian man in his early 20s – the only other refugee from Nauru remaining in the country – has also complained to relatives about broken Australian promises, and told them he plans to return to Iran in a few months.
In the Al Jazeera interview Mr Phay Siphan revealed a plan to build a refugee centre in Cambodia "controlled by the Australian embassy".
No details about the plan have been made public. Fairfax Media has approached Immigration Minister Peter Dutton for comment.
Mr Phay Siphan's comments come as Australia negotiates with at least three other countries to resettle almost 1500 asylum seekers or designated refugees from Nauru and PNG's Manus island.
The Cambodian agreement has been widely condemned since then immigration minister Scott Morrison sipped champagne to toast its signing in 2014, including by the UN refugee agency UNHCR, which said refugees deserved better than being shipped from one country to the next.
The deal was also condemned also by refugee and human rights advocates and Cambodia's opposition parties. Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said the deal had Cambodia's corrupt regime "laughing all the way to the bank".
"It was a classic Phnom Penh sting job on a donor, get the money upfront but don't concede the operational control over the project – and then stall or obfuscate until you get the outcome you want, which in this case was only a handful of refugees," he said.
Cambodian officials said in March that no more refugees on Nauru were seeking to resettle in Cambodia.