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Rights Groups Concerned Over Australian Refugee Deal

Australia and Cambodia have agreed in principle that some 1,000 refugees seeking to reach Australia could instead be sent to Cambodia.
Cambodian human rights organizations say they have major concerns over a deal with Australia that could send unwanted refugees to Cambodia.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee says Cambodia’s track record of human rights abuse and corruption make people “living on the margins” vulnerable to abuse.

Australia and Cambodia have agreed in principle that some 1,000 refugees seeking to reach Australia could instead be sent to Cambodia.

“It is irresponsible that a ‘first class economy’ like Australia is shifting its responsibilities and obligations under the Refugee Convention onto a country with a history of serious human rights abuse and little or no resources to support incoming refugees,” the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee said Wednesday. “There is also a serious culture of impunity where Cambodian security forces and government agencies have been known to commit abuses such as killings, torture, and arbitrary detention without being held accountable.”

Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, which is part of the coalition, said Wednesday that refugees should be given a choice about where to live. Australia and Cambodia “should respect their rights and freedom,” he said.

Foreign affairs officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but the official Facebook page for Prime Minister Hun Sen says the refugees will come voluntarily.

An influx of 1,000 refugees would be a far beyond what Cambodia now deals with. The country currently has 68 asylum seekers, the coalition said.

“They certainly do not enjoy the same rights as nationals,” the coalition said. “Many cannot get a job because they have no working permit, cannot open a bank account or purchase property, send money overseas, nor do they have access to suitable education and healthcare services.”

Foreign Affairs officials told VOA khmer recently that the deal has only been agreed to in principle and that a working group will consider whether it is feasible.

Rights groups maintain it is not.

“Cambodia is not a safe place for refugees, and the only parties benefitting from this agreement are the Australian government and Cambodian government officials,” the coalition said.

The coalition was also critical of statements made by Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, who said recently that refugee status “is not a ticket to a first class economy.”

“It’s not about whether they are poor,” he said, according to the coalition statement. “It’s about whether they are safe.”

“The most pressing question Scott Morrison’s statement raises is whether Cambodia is actually a safe place for refugees,” the coalition statement said. “According to the UNHCR, a resettlement country should provide the refugee with ‘legal and physical protection, including access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals.’ Anyone aware of the situation in Cambodia knows that the ‘rights enjoyed by nationals’ in Cambodia are far from enviable.”