Almost a year after the last arrival of a refugee under Cambodia’s controversial plan with Australia to resettle those it is holding on the island nation of Nauru, another three have volunteered to make the trip to Cambodia, an official said on Sunday.
Of the five refugees who have been resettled in Cambodia after being caught attempting to reach the shores of Australia, only one remains, with the other four having decided to return to the countries they fled. The remaining refugee, a Rohingya man from Burma, has told various media outlets of his misery here.
Nonetheless, three more refugees—one each from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka—told officials last month that they were prepared to leave Nauru for life in Cambodia, according to Tan Sovichea, head of the Interior Ministry’s refugee department.
“Our officials went there and they interviewed the three people and we have already recognized their refugee status,” he said. “The three refugees told us they want to come to Cambodia soon, but our government has not yet decided when.”
Mr. Sovichea said the specific arrangements for the three would need to be approved by Interior Minister Sar Kheng, who was traveling abroad last week.
“We will inform the Australian side to prepare plane tickets for them if the government agrees,” he said, adding that he did not know if more detainees on Nauru would follow.
Representatives of the International Organization for Migration, which has assisted in the resettlement of refugees to Cambodia, could not be reached on Sunday.
The deal with Australia, signed in September 2014, has been highly controversial from the start, with human rights groups and refugee advocates blasting Canberra for attempting to offload refugees on one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in Asia. Cambodia has been promised some $55 million in aid in return.
Scrutiny over Australia’s policy to detain asylum-seekers in offshore detention camps escalated with the August release of the “Nauru files,” a cache of 2,000 leaked incident reports from the detention camp.
According to the Guardian newspaper, which published and analyzed the documents, they “set out as never before the assaults, sexual abuse, self-harm attempts, child abuse and living conditions endured by asylum seekers held by the Australian government, painting a picture of routine dysfunction and cruelty.”
As of June, Australia was holding 442 people—338 men, 55 women and 49 children—in its Nauru processing center, according to the Guardian.
pheap@cambodiadaily.com
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