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Cambodia refugee deal hits another snag
Sydney Morning Herald - October 3, 2015
Only weeks after Immigration Minister Peter Dutton flew to Cambodia to salvage the agreement and announce that four more refugees had agreed to take the one-way ticket, only two have now agreed to make the journey.
"We have sent officials for interviews but the result I have received is that only two among the four volunteered to come," Cambodia's Interior Minister Sar Kheng told a television station in Phnom Penh. "The other two did not want to come and live in Cambodia," he said.
Cambodia last week flew a team of officials to Nauru to interview the three Iranians and Rohingya from Myanmar who had apparently indicated they were willing to give up their hopes of reaching Australia to live in Cambodia, where initially they would receive thousands of dollars in cash, training, help finding work, health insurance and accommodation in a luxury villa, all at Australia's expense.
But after 12 months they would be expected to fend for themselves in a country where millions of people are forced to live on less than $2 a day and the regime of strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen is accused of entrenched corruption, human rights abuses and denial of basic freedoms.
Two Rohingya Muslim men on Nauru are expected to be flown to Cambodia soon, joining four other refugees from Nauru who arrived in the country in June.
But the original group – also three Iranians and a Rohingya – have complained about the resettlement arrangements, specifically restrictions on their movements.
The 24 year-old Rohingya man from the original group whose application for refugee status was fast-tracked by Australia in late May, only days before he was flown to Cambodia, has said he wants now to return to Myanmar.
The application was based on a well-founded fear of persecution if he returned home. Rohingya are a Muslim minority in Myanmar's western Arakan state who have been described by the United Nations as among the world's most persecuted people.
Cambodia has approved the paperwork for the man to leave Phnom Penh but Myanmar has not yet approved him returning to the country.
Australia's agreement has been condemned by Cambodia's opposition parties, human rights and refugee advocacy groups and the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.
Hundreds of refugees on Nauru have resisted pressure from Australian officials to travel to Cambodia under the agreement that appeared to have collapsed in early August when a senior Cambodian official said the country had "no plans" to take any more refugees.
But Mr Dutton then spent two days holding what he said were "productive talks" in Phnom Penh to salvage the deal. A condition of the agreement is that Cambodia can decide how many refugees it accepts.
Australia gave Cambodia $40 million in additional aid to sign the agreement at a champagne-sipping ceremony in Phnom Penh last year. Australia has spent a further $15 million on arrangements to get the original group of four refugees to Cambodia, a Senate committee in Canberra has been told.