Government and refugee officials were tight-lipped Friday after closed-door talks in Phnom Penh between Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Thursday.
In February, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop asked Cambodia to consider taking in people seeking asylum in Australia.*
Four Cambodian officials—Lieutenant Tan Sok Vichea, who heads the government’s refugee office, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong, Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak and Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan—said they had no information about the talks.
The Australian Embassy and Mr. Morrison’s office said the talks continued “discussions on regional cooperation on people smuggling issues.”
The Australian Greens immigration spokesperson, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, said the proposal to “dump refugees in Cambodia is irresponsible and absurd,” and that Cambodia is being offered a “poisoned chalice” of aid to take in refugees.
Sister Denise Coghlan, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, said she has two concerns if a deal is struck.
“One is that Australia, with lots of money and space, is dumping people on a country where many are living below the poverty line and doesn’t have lots of space.”
She said she also is concerned that the political and human rights situation in Cambodia is volatile and that “this is just adding another group of people, who almost certainly don’t want to be there, into the mix. It is just exacerbating tensions of a government already in trouble.”
crothers@cambodiadaily.com
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