The Australian and Cambodian governments signed an agreement to resettle refugees detained in the Nauru Detention Centre who had originally tried to seek protection in Australia. This is a highly controversial agreement with many organisations in Australia and Cambodia coming out strongly against it.

What is the agreement?

The Australian government in cooperation with the Cambodian government plans to resettle refugees detained in the Nauru Detention Centre in Cambodia. While there is no cap on the amount of refugees Cambodia will resettle, it is expected that more than 1,000 refugees, including families, are likely to be resettled in Cambodia under the proposed plan. The Cambodian Foreign Minister has stated that the express consent of refugees is required if they are to be resettled. Refugees who are resettled from Nauru Detention Centre will be given the same opportunity for education and work.

Does the agreement violate the human rights of refugees?

The ASRC condemns the government for entering into yet another agreement with an impoverished neighour, rather than settling refugees here in Australia and guaranteeing their Protection.

We are deeply concerned that:
  • Cambodia are historically a refugee producing country;
  • The Cambodian government has a record of returning refugees to they harm they have fled; and
  • The Cambodian government has an appalling human rights record and is among the most corrupt it in the world.

There are many human rights advocates and organisations, both in Australia and Cambodia, that have publicly denounced this arrangement. Together we will monitor closely how this arrangement will impact refugees.

Criticism coming out of Australia and Cambodia is that Australia is shirking its responsibilities and international obligations. A lot of the criticism has also focused on Cambodia’s status as an impoverished nation that relies heavily on foreign aid, its inability to guarantee the rights of its own citizens, and its decisions to return refugees to countries where they were persecuted in the past.

Human Rights Watch notes that Cambodia has few services for refugees. Cambodia, one of the only countries in Southeast Asia to sign the 1951 Refugee Convention, currently houses only a small number of refugees from Burma who do not have access to appreciable government support. Former Chief Justice of the Family Court, Alastair Nicholson, who heads a coalition of international aid groups (that includes Amnesty International, UNCIEF, World Vision, Save the Children and others) holds grave fears for children refugees in Cambodia, stating:

I’d be very concerned about children for example because the situation in relation to children in Cambodia is most unsatisfactory. The education system is unsatisfactory, the health system is unsatisfactory and indeed the exploitation of children in terms of trafficking and in other ways is endemic.”

The Refugee Council of Australia joined criticism of the proposal, highlighting that sending refugees to Cambodia would be ignoring human rights concerns in a country that has a history of refoulement by forcibly returning refugees to persecution. Rights groups accuse Cambodia of playing politics in the past with refugees and using them as bargaining chips in bilateral relations, pointing to the deportation of 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers to China in 2009 after which China committed 1 billion in foreign aid.

Is Australia going to fund this financially?

There has been little comment on the level of the support the Cambodian or Australian government will provide to ensure that these refugees are able to settle into Cambodia. There are reports that Australia will provide $40 million in aid to Cambodia, on top of the aid already provided to Cambodia, over four years with that number expected to increase in the future. The Cambodian opposition leader has claimed that money exchanged as part of the deal could lead to increased corruption.

Source: UNHCR Global Trends 2013

Source: UNHCR Global Trends 2013

Source: Corruption Perception Index 2013, Human Development Index 2013

Source: UNHCR World Economic Outlook Database April 2014

What if Refugees in Nauru choose not to go to Cambodia?

There have been reports some refugees currently detained in Nauru are unlikely to give their consent to be sent to Cambodia. Refugees who refuse will have no rights to be transferred to another country if they refuse to be transferred to Cambodia, and could have their status as refugees re-assessed based on that refusal. This could potentially further delay or even jeopardise their determination status.

Share Button