Cambodia's opposition leader yesterday called on the Australian government to reconsider its plan to send refugees to the country, which he said was a short-term solution that does not address the root causes of displacement.
Sam Rainsy, Cambodia National Rescue Party president, told the Post that Australia should adopt a more “responsible attitude”.
“We have a different approach regarding refugees worldwide. We think that we should address the refugee problem at its root, at its source. We must understand why people take great risks to leave their countries and seek living conditions in other countries,” he said.
“We don’t think that dumping refugees … is a decent solution to the refugee problem, because Cambodia is not prepared, not equipped, to settle refugees.
“I would call on Australia to draw a more responsible, long-term, viable response on the refugee issue.”
He added that if the CNRP were elected to office, the party would seek a “different solution, more humane, more responsible and more long-term.… We don’t know all the details, but [it’s not appropriate] to exchange refugees for money.”
Government officials have repeatedly denied that the deal would involve a payoff in exchange for taking the refugees.
Ouch Borith, secretary of state at the Foreign Ministry, declined to comment on the progress of the refugee deal earlier this week, and Long Visalo, head of the working group tasked with drawing up a proposal to send to Australia, could not be reached.
Rainsy’s comments came days after Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong told Australia’s Fairfax Media that the deal was in the “final stage” following Phnom Penh submitting its proposal to Canberra, adding that the program would be “fundamentally undertaken on the humanitarian spirit”.
Namhong said that refugees would have to consent to being resettled in Cambodia and undergo background checks.
The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee – a coalition of rights groups – yesterday condemned the deal. “The only parties benefiting from this agreement are the Australian government and Cambodian government officials,” it said.