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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Lift ‘shroud of secrecy’ in refugee deal: NGOs

Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison signs the refugee deal with Cambodia at the Ministry of Interior in September
Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison signs the refugee deal with Cambodia at the Ministry of Interior in September. Heng Chivoan

Lift ‘shroud of secrecy’ in refugee deal: NGOs

A group of Cambodian NGOs once again expressed “deep concern” yesterday over the Kingdom’s controversial refugee deal with Australia and called for the “shroud of secrecy” surrounding the accord to be lifted.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), a coalition of 16 local NGOs, said in a statement that the “lack of transparency over this deal amounts to a fundamental breach of the democratic principles of good governance, respect for rule of law and due process.”

“Following our previous statements on this issue, CHRAC is disappointed that neither Government has provided further information on the deal, and its subsequent implementation,” the group said.

Both countries have been widely criticised for the accord, which will see refugees processed in Australian detention centres on the pacific island of Nauru resettled in Cambodia.

In a letter to the National Assembly last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the deal was made “in a spirit of strengthening friendship and cooperation with Australia”.

But the premier failed to address a number of concerns.

CHRAC yesterday called on the government to explain how it will ensure that resettlement is voluntary, what will happen to the refugees once they arrive, and how the aid money granted by Australia will be used. While both governments have said the resettlement is “voluntary”, significant pressure has been put on refugees to accept the move.

Yesterday’s statement came as 13 Montagnards hiding in Ratanakkiri in an effort to escape alleged religious persecution in Vietnam continued to be sought by the authorities.

CHRAC said the case will test the government’s commitment to refugees, explaining that the group’s refoulement would be “a clear violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention”, and would further illustrate that the “only reason the Cambodian Government is so willing to accept refugees under the MoU is because of the financial ‘sweetener’ being offered by Australia.”

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