Cambodia will not lose out on $30.1 million in aid Australia offered two years ago as part of a controversial refugee resettlement arrangement, despite the latter’s new refugee deal with the U.S., Australia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed on Tuesday.
“We remain committed to our refugee resettlement arrangements with Cambodia,” said Phoebe Nolan, a spokeswoman for the ministry. “This additional development assistance has been disbursed on schedule, and arrangements have not changed.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks to the media in Canberra on Sunday about the country’s deal with the U.S. to resettle refugees on Nauru and Manus islands. (Reuters) Australia promised the money in late 2014, immediately after Cambodia agreed to take in an unspecified number of the hundreds of refugees Australia has been holding on Nauru after stopping them at sea while trying to reach its shores.
But with the refugees showing little interest in Cambodia—only six volunteers have made the move —Australia had been looking for other options. It announced on Sunday that the U.S. had agreed to resettle refugees from Australia’s centers on both Nauru and Manus islands.
On Monday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Cambodia would remain an option for the refugees on Nauru regardless of its new arrangement with the U.S.
In an email on Tuesday, Ms. Nolan said the four-year aid package attached to its deal with Cambodia was flowing through the U.N. and Cardno, an Australian infrastructure and environmental services firm. It is to be used to improve rice production, clear landmines and to help improve the electoral system.
She declined to say how much of the money has reached Cambodia so far. About $3.7 million had been dispersed as of last December, the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh said at the time. Cambodia was upset that the money had not gone straight to the government.
Refugee advocates say the U.S. will prove a more popular option for those refugees on Nauru given the option. But they also worry that the arrangement with the U.S. might not survive the administration of President-elect Donald Trump, who has spoken out against the immigration of Muslims, which make up the majority of the refugees in the Australian centers.
peter@cambodiadaily.com
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