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Deal Imminent To Bring Asylum Seekers To Cambodia

Eighteen year old Montagnard hill-tribe woman from Vietnam, Rmah H'Bin, takes a break during an orientation course run by the International Organisation for Migration in Pnom Penh, file photo.

Top officials from Australia and Cambodia are expected to sign a controversial deal on Friday that would bring asylum seekers to Cambodia.

Rights workers have been deeply critical of the deal, announced Wednesday, which would move 1,000 asylum seekers currently in detention in the South Pacific to Cambodia. Critics say Cambodia’s own poor human rights record should give pause to an agreement that would bring even more people to a country whose resources are already stretched.

A memorandum of understanding will be signed during the two-day visit by Scott Morrison, Minister of Migration and Border Protection of Australia, the Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement. “Both parties have agreed and will now achieve the signing of the MOU,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said.

Ou Virak, head of the board at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, says many details of the deal have not been made public.

“Will they have the right to get Cambodian citizenship, or will they just stay in Cambodia for a while and be sent to a third country?” he said. “This deportation to Cambodia is like a punishment to them. After they escaped to find a better life in Australia, Australia sends them to Cambodia, where there are no better conditions for their resettlement, as Cambodia has poor education, a bad health care system and a poor economy.”

Yem Ponhearith, a spokesman for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, says there has been little public discussion about the deal, which was done under “opaque procedures.” “We do not support that agreement,” he said.