The International Organization for Migration has said a refugee relocation and integration program it will soon start developing with the Cambodian government will benefit all refugees in the country, even if none processed in Australian camps on Nauru choose to resettle in the Kingdom.
The IOM announced on Monday it would assist with a controversial resettlement scheme inked between Cambodia and Australia last September, after the government agreed to meet several conditions it laid down.
A regional spokesman said yesterday in an interview that those conditions – which include the “efficient provision” of legal documents required for access to health services, jobs and education – will be put in place for all refugees in Cambodia, even if none on Nauru choose to relocate here.
None of the 40 or so refugees that currently live in Cambodia – several awarded refugee status have left the country – have been given resident cards despite a 2009 sub-decree on refugee resettlement stipulating they should receive it, rights groups say.
The Jesuit Refugee Service says the absence of documents restricts their access to employment and procedures to gain Cambodian citizenship.
Refugees have instead only received a prakas that confirms their refugee status, which some have claimed is useless when trying to obtain basic services such as opening a bank account, buying a motorbike, or getting a driver’s licence.
IOM spokesman Joe Lowry claimed that the conditions put in place for arrivals from Nauru, including the provision of documents, would be of “direct benefit to refugees already here”, who would be the first beneficiaries of the new program.
“We can’t have a two-tiered system where the people who arrive from Nauru get something different or something preferential to the people that have been here for years,” he said.
Although the 2009 sub-decree already guarantees similar rights, Lowry admitted its implementation had been patchy.
But Kerm Sarin, head of the government’s Refugee Department, claimed to be unaware of any program with the IOM.
In November, a senior refugee office official said the prakas was adequate documentation for refugees.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said it did not appear the IOM had made a wise bet in trusting “Phnom Penh’s fickle promises”.
“IOM’s credibility and reputation is on the line to deliver outcomes based on those promises, and to be honest, it’s not a bet I would have made, because we have seen time and time again that Cambodia has no real abiding interest in protecting or providing for refugees,” he said.
The IOM declined to comment on the government’s recent deportations of Montagnard asylum seekers.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY PHAK SEANGLY