Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday confirmed that Cambodia was in talks with his government to take in some of the refugees trying to reach his country’s shores, according to Australian media.
Mr. Abbott’s statement was the first official admission from his administration that Australia had broached the matter with Cambodia.
“Whether Cambodia were to accept people is really a matter for Cambodia,” Mr. Abbott said, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “We’re very pleased to have been getting the support of [Papua New Guinea] and Nauru that we’ve had and we look forward to further support from other countries in our region including from Cambodia.”
Papua New Guinea has agreed to resettle some of the asylum seekers now being held at a detention center on its shores, if they are found to have legitimate claims, but says it will not take all of them.
The official confirmation of Cambodia’s involvement in the scheme follows Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s visit to Phnom Penh on Thursday for a private meeting with Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
Last week, The Australian newspaper quoted Mr. Morrison as saying his trip was a follow-up to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s visit here in February to meet her Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong.
Neither Mr. Morrison nor Ms. Bishop would confirm that Australia had asked Cambodia to take on some of its asylum seekers. But Mr. Namhong broke the news immediately after his meeting with Ms. Bishop in February, saying Cambodia would “carefully consider” the request.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said last month that a special committee had been formed to study Australia’s asylum seeker request. On Sunday, however, he declined to say anything about Thursday’s meeting.
“It was a closed door meeting, so no information at all,” General Sopheak said.
On Saturday, The Guardian newspaper reported on speculation that the deal would see Cambodia take on up to 100 refugees in return for $40 million.
peter@cambodiadaily.com
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