Refugees who met with Cambodian immigration officials last week on the Pacific island of Nauru were told they would be given permanent visas and travel documents but would have to pay for English-language education and would lose all but emergency financial support after a year, a refugee said.
Two men attended the meeting where Cambodia explained how the resettlement program signed between Australia and Cambodia in September 2014 would work, but according to a refugee in the meeting, attendees only went out of curiosity and were not interested in moving to the Kingdom.
“We are traded like slaves between two corrupted governments. One wealthy but obsessed by the boats, the other one hungry enough to commit any crime [for] money”, the refugee, who cannot be named for security reasons, said.
“These two [countries] have created a great torture machine to reach their nasty political, economic purposes and are blessed enough to have the support of the all international organisations like [the] UN.
“Many people have died. Many children [have been] sexually abused. Many women [have been] raped … and everybody [is] calling for investigations instead of any real, practical help. We don’t need your investigation. We don’t need your sympathy. We don’t beg any fake respect. We just don’t want to be slaves anymore.”
According to the agreement signed by the two countries on September 26, Australia would cover all the costs of resettlement and later said it would also give Cambodia an additional $35 million in aid to sweeten the deal.
General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, and Kerm Sarin, director of the ministry’s Refugee Department, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The International Organisation for Migration, which has agreed to help facilitate the “voluntary” transfer of refugees from Nauru as long as a number of conditions are met, was also present at last week’s meeting, according to IOM’s Asia Pacific spokesman Joe Lowry.
“We would have had no talks with anyone unless they had expressed an interest in relocating. That hasn’t happened, to the best of my knowledge,” he said.
A spokesperson for Australia’s minister of immigration could not be reached yesterday.
The refugee on Nauru said the community felt criminalised, as other groups who arrived by boat at the same time had been allowed to move to Australia.
“Being [a] refugee is not [a] crime.… We are [neither] criminals nor slaves. We are ordinary people who are fighting for their right to live.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY AND CHEANG SOKHA