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Refugees Will First Stay in a Provisional Center, Official Says

Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng signs an MOU on Friday sept 26 with Australia Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to resettle refugees in Cambodia.

The first group of asylum seekers from the Micronesian island of Nauru will arrive as early as the end of the year, resettling in provisional facility in Phnom Penh for at least a year, officials said Monday.

Long Visalou, secretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters that the refugees, who had be rejected by the Australian government, would likely not stay in Phnom Penh. He did not give exact details on how many refugees will come.

“They will be put in the provisional center in Phnom Penh, once they arrive, but surely they will not be housed [permanently] in Phnom Penh,” he said. The capital has “too many people already,” and the refugees will need land and jobs, he said.

The first group will arrive at the end of this year or the beginning of next, he said. Australia will provide funding for vocational training, Khmer language lessons, and health care for the first five years of the resettlement, as well as for developing a relocation area where they can be settled, he said.

Cambodia and Australia signed an agreement on the resettlement Friday. Details have been scarce on the plan, including how many refugees, most of them from the Middle East and South Asia, will ultimately come to Cambodia.

Rights groups have criticized the arrangement as a poor policy for Australia and a bad deal for refugees, who will arrive in a developing country where resources are already taxed.

In a public speech Monday morning, Prime Minister Hun Sen defended the agreements as “an act of humanity.”

But Ou Virak, board president for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, says Cambodia has not thought through the program well enough. A year of language training and a little vocational training “is not enough,” he said.

“I was a refugee, and I lived in the United States, a rich country,” he said. “We made it five years, and we needed support for at least five years to survive.”