Cambodia to Sign Deal to Resettle Asylum Seekers

By The Associated Press 25 September 2014

PHNOM PENH — Cambodia announced Wednesday that it will sign a deal with Australia this week to resettle people who were denied asylum there.

Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry said the agreement will be signed Friday by Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng, but gave no details.

Officials from both countries have said they were discussing the possibility of resettling some of the more than 1,100 people housed in a camp on the Pacific island nation of Nauru. Australia pays Nauru to house the asylum seekers, mostly from South Asia and the Middle East, and has a similar deal with Papua New Guinea. Human rights groups have criticized living conditions at the camps.

Cambodia Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said details of the deal may be revealed Friday after the signing. It is widely assumed that Australia will pay Cambodia to house the asylum seekers as permanent settlers rather than in holding camps. Cambodian officials have said the resettlement must be done on a voluntary basis.

“The arrangement would enable persons to be settled from Nauru into Cambodia,” Morrison told reporters in May. “To be able to achieve that in a country which at one time was producing refugees, and now being able to take refugees and properly resettle them, I think that’s a very worthy objective and it’s one we’re working very closely with them on achieving.”

Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians fled from their homeland to Thailand in the 1970s after a Vietnamese invasion ousted the Khmer Rouge regime. Most were housed in temporary camps near the border, and returned home after several years.

The human rights group Amnesty International has criticized Australia’s refusal to resettle the asylum seekers.

It said in a statement earlier this year that Australia was “shirking its human rights responsibilities to other poorer and under-resourced nations.”