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Cambodia Receives First Asylum Seekers from Australia

  • Robert ​Carmichael
  • VOA News

A van drives four refugees from Australia out of Phnom Penh International Airport, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, June 4, 2015.

A van drives four refugees from Australia out of Phnom Penh International Airport, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, June 4, 2015.

Cambodia has received its first group of asylum seekers from Australia as part of a refugee resettlement deal that has been widely criticized by human rights groups.

Officials at the Phnom Penh international airport confirmed the refugees arrived Thursday and were handed over to the International Organization for Migration, which is helping resettle them.

In a statement, IOM said it will "begin to provide essential support, including language training, cultural and social orientation, education services, health services, and employment services" for the asylum seekers.

"They will be encouraged and supported to integrate into the Cambodian community and become self-reliant as quickly as possible," said the statement.

Cambodia last year reached a $32 million agreement to resettle refugees who were rejected by Australia and are now being held in a detention center in the Pacific island nation of Nauru.

Critics say the deal amounts to Australia, one of the world's biggest economies, neglecting its international responsibilities and dumping refugees off on Cambodia, one of the world's poorest countries.

It is a "truly shameful day for human rights in Australia," according to Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch. The organization has said Cambodia is neither willing nor able to integrate the refugees.

The three Iranians and one ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar who arrived in Phnom Penh on Thursday are among the first to volunteer to migrate from Nauru to Cambodia.

Australia has struggled to convince the other nearly 700 asylum seekers held at the Nauru center to register for resettlement.

Australia's conservative government has enforced a strict policy of not accepting those who arrive illegally in Australia by boat. They are instead sent either to Nauru or Papua New Guinea.

Under the much-criticized deal, Cambodia has agreed to take in more than 1,000 refugees.

The United Nations has expressed deep concern over the deal, calling it a “worrying departure from international norms."

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