5 asy­lum seek­ers on Nauru to go to Cam­bo­dia


Five asy­lum seek­ers from Sri Lanka, Myan­mar and Iran have agreed to be among the first to leave the Pa­cific is­land na­tion of Nauru for Cam­bo­dia un­der a deal that al­lows refugees re­jected by Australia to be re­set­tled in the Southeast Asian coun­try, a refugee ad­vo­cate said Mon­day.

Ian Rin­toul, spokesman for the Australia-based ad­vo­cacy group Refugee Ac­tion Coali­tion, said none of the five men had had their refugee claims ac­cepted yet.

While the bi­lat­eral agree­ment signed last Septem­ber stip­u­lates that those re­set­tled in Cam­bo­dia must be gen­uine refugees who vol­un­teered to go, of­fi­cials in Nauru were invit­ing asy­lum seek­ers whose refugee claims have yet to be pro­cessed as well as bona fide refugees, he said.

“My sus­pi­cion is that they’ll de­lay the flight long enough so that they can fast-track their de­ter­mi­na­tion process and they’ll be granted refugee sta­tus be­fore the plane ar­rives,” Rin­toul said. “The gov­ern­ment is des­per­ate to save po­lit­i­cal face and there are se­ri­ous ques­tions about the bona fides of what they’re in­volved in.”

The gov­ern­ment had ex­pected the first refugees to move to Cam­bo­dia by late last year, but the asy­lum seek­ers on Nauru have proved re­luc­tant.

Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton’s of­fice con­firmed Mon­day that only gen­uine refugees would be re­set­tled in Cam­bo­dia.

Of the 718 asy­lum seek­ers in Nauru from Africa, the Mid­dle East and South Asia, 485 had proven to be gen­uine refugees by the end of last month. An­other 83 had their claims re­jected and an­other 150 had yet to be as­sessed.

A fact sheet out­lin­ing the benefits that refugees would be pro­vided with if they be­came the first to go to Cam­bo­dia, in­clud­ing free health in­sur­ance and cash, that was cir­cu­lated by Aus­tralian of­fi­cials around the detention camp in re­cent weeks said the plane could leave as early as Mon­day.

Dut­ton would not say when the first plane would leave Nauru or how many refugees it would carry. “It won’t be far off,” he told Aus­tralian Broad­cast­ing Corp. ra­dio.

“We’re hav­ing dis­cus­sions with a large num­ber of peo­ple on Nauru at the mo­ment be­cause we’ve made it very clear that those peo­ple will not be set­tled in Australia,” he said. “So we want to pro­vide them with as­sis­tance in the first in­stance to go back to their coun­try of ori­gin. If they’re not pre­pared to do that, then we will pro­vide them with as­sis­tance to go to Cam­bo­dia. That’s the op­tion avail­able to them.”

Rin­toul said asy­lum seek­ers were be­ing of­fered be­tween AU$10,000 and AU$ 15,000 ( NT$ 242,245 and NT$363,367; US$7,800 and US$11,700) to go to Cam­bo­dia.

Hu­man rights groups have con­demned the deal as be­ing danger­ous for refugees and have called on Australia to ful­fill its own obligations as a sig­na­tory to the United Na­tions Refugee Con­ven­tion by re­set­tling the refugees.

But Australia re­fuses to ac­cept any refugees who at­tempt to reach its shores by boat. It pays Nauru and Pa­pua New Guinea to hold them in detention.

The five men who had ac­cepted re­set­tle­ment in Cam­bo­dia had been seg­re­gated from the rest of the Nauru camp, Rin­toul said. They in­cluded three eth­nic Tamil Sri Lankans, a Ro­hingya Mus­lim from Myan­mar and one Ira­nian, he said.

An Ira­nian woman whose refugee claim had been re­jected vol­un­teered to go to Cam­bo­dia, but her of­fer was not ac­cepted, Rin­toul said.

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