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Australia seeking new destinations for refugees

Australia is actively looking to strike deals with more countries that can resettle its unwanted refugees as its controversial agreement with Cambodia continues to flounder.

Peter Dutton, Australia’s immigration minister, said yesterday the government was in talks with countries outside of Cambodia in a bid to find new third-party resettlement options.

“We’re working and have been for a long period of time working on other bilateral options,” he said. “We have Cambodia available as an option, and it is difficult when we’ve got probably well-intentioned refugee advocates back here who are messaging up to these people on Nauru, saying ‘don’t accept any offer’.”

Dutton’s office didn’t respond yesterday to questions about which countries had been approached.

Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, said Australia’s search for more countries less than a year after signing the $A40 million (US$28.5 million) deal with Phnom Penh “shows how ridiculous the idea of resettlement in Cambodia really is”.

Since the agreement was signed over champagne last October, just four refugees have arrived in Cambodia. One has requested to return to his native Myanmar and is awaiting repatriation.

The Interior Ministry recently claimed two more Rohingya refugees have volunteered for resettlement.

But Rintoul said there was “no sign” of the alleged volunteers. “It is highly likely that they don’t really exist.”

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