Immigration officials will visit Nauru this week to assess possible applications from a small number of refugees who may wish to resettle in Cambodia in the coming days or weeks under a bilateral deal with Australia, a senior Interior Ministry official said yesterday.
The delegation’s visit to the tiny Melanesian island was planned at the request of the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh following reports last week that refugees may arrive by plane today, which Cambodian officials said had sparked “confusion” in Phnom Penh.
“We have received a request from the embassy and [Interior Minister Sar Kheng] has already ordered the Immigration Department to send officials to Nauru, either [yesterday] or [today], depending on the availability of plane tickets,” Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak said yesterday.
The prospect of a small number of refugees moving to Cambodia follows the circulation of a “fact sheet” among the refugees by Australian immigration officials last week, which touted the supposed benefits of resettling in the Kingdom and offered an insight into the “support” being offered to refugees who agree to move now.
Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that Cambodian officials “were confused by the Australian side”, adding that no refugees would be allowed to arrive in Phnom Penh today, as was suggested by the Abbott government’s letter.
“The opportunity to settle in Cambodia is now available to you. The first flight from Nauru to Cambodia for refugees will be as soon as 20 April 2015. Moving to Cambodia provides an opportunity for you and your family to start a new life in a safe country, free from persecution and violence, and build your future,” the letter said.
It went on to detail the “support packages” available to refugees who resettle now, including “cash in hand and in a bank account”; “villa-style” accommodation; health insurance, which would also cover mental health; and assistance to find work and permanent accommodation.
“If you are not in the first group of refugees to settle in Cambodia,” Australian immigration emphasised, “your assistance package will be different.”
A spokesperson for Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s office yesterday declined to comment on the letter, adding only that “the first group of volunteers is anticipated to depart for Cambodia in the near future”.
Cambodia and Australia signed the “voluntary” resettlement accord, which included a pledge of an additional A$40 million – about US$31.1 million at current rates – in aid to Cambodia if it went ahead, in Phnom Penh on September 26 last year.
Since then, numerous rights groups and refugee advocates have raised “grave concerns” about the agreement, while few refugees on Nauru have shown any interest in resettlement in Cambodia.
On previous visits to the island, hardly anyone showed up to meetings with Cambodian officials, and no refugees have openly expressed a desire to move to Phnom Penh, though refugees on the island have previously told the Post that some families were considering the prospect.
The refugees’ presence on the Pacific island has led to rising violence against those who have been temporarily resettled outside of Australian detention facilities.
On Friday, Unicef said it was concerned for the fate of children resettled from Nauru, as a number of minors, including at least one baby, were flown back to the island from Darwin.
A recent inquiry by Australia’s former integrity commissioner, Philip Moss, detailed allegations of rape, assault, self-harm among children and sexual abuse at the Australian-funded, privately run detention centre on Nauru.
Dozens of refugees on Nauru over the weekend protested the impending resettlement and the recent passage of a law by the Nauru government banning unapproved demonstrations.