Cam­bo­dia ad­mits first asy­lum-seek­ers un­der Oz deal

The China Post - - GUIDE POST -

Cam­bo­dia re­ceived its first batch of asy­lum-seek­ers from Aus­tralian cus­tody on Thurs­day, with rights groups la­bel­ing them “hu­man guinea pigs” for an un­car­ing pol­icy by Can­berra to off­load refugees onto other coun­tries.

The mi­grants — three Ira­ni­ans and one eth­nic Ro­hingya from Myan­mar — were flown into Ph­nom Penh, the cap­i­tal of one of Southeast Asia’s poor­est na­tions with a weak record of up­hold­ing hu­man rights.

“They have ar­rived now and we al­ready handed them to the IOM,” Ch­hay Bonna, the air­port’s chief im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer told AFP, re­fer­ring to the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Migration, which is tasked with help­ing the four set­tle in.

The refugees, three men and one woman, were greeted by Cam­bo­dian im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Australia’s em­bassy at the VIP sec­tion of Ph­nom Penh’s air­port, an AFP re­porter on the scene said.

The IOM said in a state­ment the group were be­ing taken to tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion in the Cam­bo­dian cap­i­tal where they would un­dergo lan­guage train­ing as well as “cul­tural and so­cial ori­en­ta­tion.”

“They’re here, they’re healthy and we ask for pri­vacy for them,” IOM re­gional spokesman Joe Lowry told AFP.

Un­der Can­berra’s hard-line im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, asy­lum-seek­ers who ar­rive by boat are de­nied re­set­tle­ment in Australia and sent to Pa­pua New Guinea and Nauru, even if they are gen­uine refugees.

The con­tro­ver­sial deal was inked last Septem­ber to al­low those granted refugee sta­tus in Nauru to per­ma­nently re­set­tle in Cam­bo­dia.

Un­der the agree­ment, Cam­bo­dia will ac­cept Australia’s un­wanted refugees in re­turn for mil­lions of dol­lars of aid over the next four years.

Can­berra will cover all di­rect costs of the set­tle­ment ar­range­ment and refugees will only be moved to the Southeast Asian na­tion if they vol­un­teer.

The ar­rival of the mi­grants was wel­comed by Aus­tralian Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton. “I think we can demon­strate it can work for th­ese four and oth­ers can fol­low,” he told broad­caster Sky News Thurs­day.

‘Hu­man guinea pigs’

The U.N. has con­demned the deal and refugee ad­vo­cates said asy­lum­seek­ers do not want to be sent to Cam­bo­dia, a coun­try that has been crit­i­cized for its own record of help­ing refugees, par­tic­u­larly Viet­nam- ese Mon­tag­nards who are de­ported.

The mainly Chris­tian eth­nic mi­nori­ties in Viet­nam’s moun­tain­ous Cen­tral High­lands have crossed the bor­der to Cam­bo­dia in re­cent years to es­cape dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Rights groups hit out Thurs­day at the move to ship the first set of refugees to Cam­bo­dia un­der the deal with Australia.

“Cam­bo­dia clearly has no will or ca­pac­ity to in­te­grate refugees per­ma­nently into Cam­bo­dian so­ci­ety,” Phil Robert­son, from Hu­man Rights Watch said.

“Th­ese four refugees are es­sen­tially hu­man guinea pigs in an

of­ten Aus­tralian ex­per­i­ment that ig­nores the fact that Cam­bo­dia has not in­te­grated other refugees and has al­ready sent Mon­tag­nards and Uighur asy­lum seek­ers back into harm’s way in Viet­nam and China.”

Chak Sopheap, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Cam­bo­dian Cen­ter for Hu­man Rights, said Cam­bo­dia’s “poor record re­gard­ing the treat­ment of asy­lum-seek­ers is well known.”

“It is hard to be­lieve that the Cam­bo­dian peo­ple will ben­e­fit from an eco­nomic agree­ment be­tween Cam­bo­dia and Australia over refugees,” she told AFP.

Con­di­tions for those mi­grants re­jected by Australia have raised alarm bells.

Asy­lum-seek­ers on Nauru live in mouldy tents and have lit­tle pri­vacy, an Aus­tralian Se­nate in­quiry heard last month, while for­mer staff at the camp have said women and chil­dren were sex­u­ally abused.

Can­berra says the gov­ern­ment or­dered a re­view into con­di­tions in Nauru last year and has since ad­dressed many is­sues.

The ar­rival of the four refugees in Cam­bo­dia comes as Southeast Asia strug­gles to han­dle a mi­grant cri­sis that has seen boat­loads of per­se­cuted Ro­hingya mi­grants and poor Bangladeshis ar­rive in Thai­land, In­done­sia and Malaysia.

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