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Australian Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton (left) talks with immigration chief Sok Phal (right) about refugee resettlement last year at the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh. Immigration Department
Australian Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton (left) talks with immigration chief Sok Phal (right) about refugee resettlement last year at the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh. Immigration Department

Nauru refugees ‘not disappointed’: immigration chief

Interior Ministry immigration chief Sok Phal yesterday claimed that the five refugees transferred to Cambodia from Australia’s detention centre on Nauru island had no disappointments in their time here, despite three leaving the Kingdom for the countries they fled.

“I think we have given them their rights and freedoms. There are no points the refugees are disappointed with,” Phal said when questioned by a reporter during a press conference on illegal immigration.

Mohammed Rashid, one of the two remaining refugees settled under the $A55 million deal with the Australian government, this month said he regretted coming to Cambodia.

“It was a big mistake for me to come here,” Rashid said.

Phal stressed that the five refugees came of their own free will and refused to be drawn into evaluating the deal’s outcomes.

“Therefore, we cannot say it was unsuccessful or successful; we respected their right [to leave] voluntarily,” said Phal.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, described Phal’s equivocation as “diplomatic”.

“The idea he doesn’t know whether it’s a success or not is a diplomatic response to say what he doesn’t want to say, which is: This worked out just the way we wanted; we got all the money and we didn’t have to take many refugees and there are no more coming now,” Robertson said.

Sister Denise Coghlan of the Jesuit Refugee Service said she opposed the resettlement deal but “in this era when so many countries are unwilling to accept refugees, it’s heartening to see Cambodia was willing to take them”.

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