PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA - Two more refugees detained on the South Pacific island of Nauru are expected to arrive in Cambodia soon as part of a controversial resettlement deal with Australia.
The refugees, both ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar, will travel to Phnom Penh after meeting with Cambodian officials who traveled to Nauru.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, told VOA Khmer on Wednesday that the newest refugees were not the ones Phnom Penh had been expecting.
“Australia told us there are four volunteers — three Iranians, one Rohingya. When our officials got there, the four asylum seekers didn’t want to come, but two other Rohingyas volunteered to come instead," he said.
The date of their arrival was not given.
So far, only three Iranians are in staying Cambodia under the deal. One Rohingya man has asked to go back to Myanmar, and Cambodian officials say he is expected to leave within a week.
The first set of refugees has been living in a compound in Phnom Penh but will be released soon, Khieu Sopheak said.
“They can speak Khmer and understand our traditions and are ready to live outside the camp,” he said. “It’s just a pilot project, so we’ll see how they fit into Khmer society and living outside [the compound]. It’s going forward; it’s not that difficult.”
In September, Cambodia and Australia agreed to take the second group of asylum seekers from Nauru, following a visit to Cambodia by Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. The deal was announced the same day Australia said it would accept 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq.
Cambodia is reportedly receiving as much as $40 million in aid from Australia in exchange for accepting the asylum seekers, a deal heavily criticized by refugee rights groups.
More than 600 refugees and asylum seekers are thought to be on Nauru. Hundreds more are in detention on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island under an arrangement with Australia. Most are believed to be from countries in South Asia and the Middle East.
The proposed resettlement deal was the subject of months of secret negotiations and has drawn criticism from rights organizations, church groups and opposition politicians in both countries. The U.N. refugee agency said it undermines the principles of the refugee convention to which both nations are signatories.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.