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Ministers to sign refugee deal

A bus at Christmas Island airport carries the first group of asylum seekers in 2012 to be transferred to Nauru by plane, as part of the regional processing arrangements made by the Australian Government.
A bus at Christmas Island airport carries the first group of asylum seekers in 2012 to be transferred to Nauru by plane, as part of the regional processing arrangements made by the Australian Government. DIBP

Ministers to sign refugee deal

Australian Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison will sign a pact with the Cambodian government on Friday to redirect refugees seeking asylum in his country to the Kingdom, the Foreign Ministry announced today.

The controversial deal – widely decried by rights groups, Cambodia's opposition party and members of Australia’s opposition – will be inked in a meeting with Interior Minister Sar Kheng during a two-day visit by the Australian delegation, according to a ministry press statement.

Morrison made a 24-hour visit to Phnom Penh in April, during which he met with Kheng for talks that built on a February visit by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, when the proposal was first put forward.

The deal has been marked by silence on the part of both governments, and no details regarding a timeline or plans for the refugees were forthcoming yesterday.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, told the Post yesterday that he had no information regarding the number of potential refugees Cambodia had agreed to accept, when they will begin to arrive or where the government hopes to resettle them.

The Post reported in August that high-level Australian bureaucrats had visited properties in Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanouk province to assess possible resettlement sites.

General Sok Phal, director general of the Immigration Department, just two weeks ago attempted to bat down concerns of long-term institutionalisation, saying refugees could be successfully integrated into society.

“There is no need for them to live in a group. Of course, they will stay together for a while, and then they will separate,” he said.

But Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, yesterday said the deal was "shameful".

"It's truly cynical …[Cambodia] doesn't have the policies or resources to protect these people," he said.

He added that the "hard-headed" government of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was showing it was "more than willing to violate human rights in pursuit of what it considers its national interest".

The move will seriously damage refugee protection in the region, Robertson added.

"Governments with money … and power will be able to pick and choose refugees they want and refugees they don't want," he said. 

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