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Progress, But No ‘Final Decision’ on Australian Immigration Deal

FILE - In this April 12, 2014, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks during a press conference at a hotel in Beijing, China.
Cambodian officials say they have not yet confirmed whether they will accept a request from Australia to receive rejected immigrants. But they do say the request is moving forward.

The two sides signed a memorandum of understanding over the transfer of immigrants in April, but a “final decision” has not been made, said Soeung Ratchavy, secretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“A technical working group now has been established to study whether or not we can accept the immigrants, so we need time to study,” he said on the sidelines of a conference on Cambodia-Australia relations.

Scott Morrison, Australia’s Immigration Minister, told reporters earlier this month Cambodia had responded positively to the deal.

Australia is facing immigration attempts by hundreds of thousands of people, mostly from Asia and the Middle East, and is seeking regional partners to take some of them in. It has offered Cambodia $80 million in aid this year.

But critics say Cambodia is in no position to take on more people itself, as it faces ongoing job concerns and a growing population, as well as widespread criticism of its human rights record.

“Cambodia has a poor record of treatment of illegal immigrants, such as with Uighur, an ethnic minority in China,” said Chak Sopheap, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, referring to a government decision to return 20 Uighur asylum-seekers to China in 2009.

“This indicates that Australia has closed its eyes to avoid responsibility,” he said.