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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs