PHNOM PENH —
Some 300 people, including monks and students, marched through the capital on Friday, protesting a refugee deal between Cambodia and Australia.
Protesters say Cambodia is not prepared to take in refugees that have been interred at a facility on the Micronesian island of Nauru and that the deal violates the spirit of international refugee conventions.
“All those refugees, they wanted to seek asylum and Australian citizenship,” Mao Pises, who is president of the Federation Cambodian Intellectuals and Students and one of the organizers, told VOA Khmer ahead of the march. “They risked their lives in crossing a big ocean, by boat, to flee their home countries and to live in Australia. So they didn’t intend to live in Cambodia, a poor country, at all.”
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman of the Ministry of Interior, said Thursday the deal was based on principles of humanitarianism and that any resettlement would be voluntary.
Protesters on Friday morning marched to submit petitions to the embassies of the US and Australia, the UN’s office in Phnom Penh, and the National Assembly and Council of Ministers.
Many of the protesters were victims of land disputes who said Cambodia is not ready to take on refugees because it has yet to solve many of its own lingering development questions. They say a deal struck between Australia and Cambodia last month should be annulled.
They briefly clashed with security forces deployed outside the Council of Ministers building Friday morning, but no one was reported injured.