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Australia to Sign Refugee Deal with Cambodia


FILE - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) at Koh Pich island in Phnom Penh.

Cambodian officials have released little information about an impending and controversial deal with Australia to take in refugees held at a detention facility in the South Pacific nation of Nauru.

Cambodian Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng says Cambodia will take “four or five” refugees “only as a test” in the near future, but gave no further details.
Meanwhile, Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says he will sign the agreement Friday in Phnom Penh to provide refugees with unspecified support to make them "self-reliant as quickly as possible."

The policy will be "strictly voluntary," according to Morrison, and only refugees who are willing to do so will be resettled in Cambodia, where rights groups warn they are likely to be mistreated.

He gave few other details on the deal, which some Australian opposition lawmakers and international human rights groups have criticized as inhumane.

Human Rights Watch says Cambodia, one of the world's poorest countries, has not shown a willingness or ability to provide refugees adequate protection.

The New York-based group also says the Southeast Asian nation has a record of returning refugees to countries where they face persecution, such as China and Vietnam.

Hundreds of asylum seekers have died in recent years while en route to Australia on rickety, overcrowded boats, creating a humanitarian emergency.

Under a policy aimed at deterring the boats, Australia's conservative government has been sending those trying to reach the country to remote camps on either Manus Island or the tiny Pacific island of Nauru.

The government says the policy has been successful at deterring people smugglers, pointing out that only one boatload of refugees has reached the Australian mainland since December.

But the United Nations and immigration rights activists have called the camps "harsh," and say long-term detention at such facilities is inhumane.

In a move aimed at addressing those criticisms, the Australian government has introduced a bill in parliament that would provide temporary, three-year visas for refugees.