News / Asia

Controversial Cambodian Deal with Australia on Refugees Moves Closer

FILE - An exterior view of the government offices of the small island nation of Nauru is pictured, February 10, 2012.
FILE - An exterior view of the government offices of the small island nation of Nauru is pictured, February 10, 2012.
Robert Carmichael
A controversial refugee resettlement deal between Cambodia and Australia has moved closer, the Cambodian government says, with agreement “in principle” to accept an unknown number of people.
 
A senior official at Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ouch Borith, told reporters late Tuesday that his government had agreed “in principle” to take in refugees who are currently being held by Australia in detention centers on Nauru, an island in the South Pacific.
 
Ouch Borith insisted that Cambodia would not take the refugees unless they came voluntarily.
 
The details are still being worked out in a Cambodian inter-ministerial committee, and VOA understands that a final deal is likely to be months away.
 
The conservative government in Australia, which is one of Cambodia’s most important donors, came to power last year on a pledge to be tough on asylum-seekers.
 
Since news broke in February that Australia had asked Cambodia to take in refugees, rights workers have expressed concerns over the proposal given the country’s poor human rights record.
 
Others wonder why one of the world’s richest nations is trying to send refugees to one of the poorest.
 
Sister Denise Coghlan heads the Jesuit Refugee Service, which has been active in refugee issues in Cambodia since 1990. Although she cautions that many details are yet to emerge, she said there are a couple of positives that come with Cambodia’s decision.
 
“Is that Cambodia is willing to offer hospitality where Australia is not. For me that’s really important because the climate of the world is against refugees now. There’s an openness to receiving them. So that’s one," Sister Denise explained. "And then they’ve also said they’d live in community rather than detention centers like Australia’s concocting. And then they also said - or Ouch Borith is quoted as saying - that people have to want to come, you know they have to agree to come to Cambodia.”
 
On the negative side, she added, Cambodia has many displaced people of its own. Those include thousands of villagers evicted from their land, migrants and trafficked people, as well as tens of thousands of ethnic Vietnamese who are stateless within Cambodia.
 
There are also legal shortcomings with any resettlement plan. Although Cambodia’s current process offers temporary protection for refugees, there is nothing in place to allow such people to eventually convert that temporary status after seven years into residency and full citizenship.
 
“There’s nothing in place - there’s no way that people can do that as yet in the Cambodian legal system. So they need to address the gaps in both the nationality law and the immigration law and the refugee law, which means residency cards, and they need to be able to grant people work permits," Sister Denise said.
 
Setting aside Cambodia’s professed willingness to take in refugees, Sister Denise is particularly scathing about Australia’s role.  “I think it’s absolutely shameful of Australia. As I’ve said many times before, Australia’s a rich country, it has lots of space, it has a very competent legal system and processes, and there’s no reason whatsoever why it can’t accept the 1,000-plus people that are on Nauru who are determined to be refugees,” she said.
 
Others have expressed their concerns, among them veteran rights activist Ou Virak who was himself a child refugee after the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. In a Facebook post Wednesday, Ou Virak said the current situation left many questions unanswered including, for example, whether children would be able to access their right to an education.
 
Cambodian officials have said that offering to take in refugees is in keeping with the country’s international obligations, in much the same way as it has contributed peacekeepers and deminers to U.N. operations in recent years. Authorities have repeatedly denied they are holding out for financial sweeteners from Australia to agree to the refugee deal.
 
The comments by Foreign Affairs Ministry official Ouch Borith’s comments announcing the agreement in principle came after a meeting between Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and the U.N.’s Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Flavia Pansieri, who is currently visiting Cambodia.
 
Pansieri later told reporters that her office stood ready to help Cambodia meet the necessary standards to ensure the human rights of the refugees are upheld.

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs