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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - No asylum deal yet: Australia

A man walks between tents at Australia’s regional refugee processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea
A man walks between tents at Australia’s regional refugee processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. AFP

No asylum deal yet: Australia

A deal to send refugees to Cambodia has not yet been signed, but Australia is looking to send more of its unwanted asylum seekers to countries in the region, Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has said.

Morrison told Australia’s Sky News yesterday that Cambodia has the potential to accommodate refugees, echoing comments made by Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday.

“We are very pleased to have been getting the support . . . that we’ve had and we look forward to further support from other countries in our region, including Cambodia,” Abbott said.

Morrison made the remarks after 24-hour visit to Phnom Penh last week, during which he met with Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Thursday for talks building on a February visit by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, when the proposal was first put forward.

Officials have kept quiet on the issue since that meeting. Eang Sophalleth, spokesman for Prime Minister Hun Sen, yesterday declined to comment on the proposal’s specifics.

Morrison arrived in Cambodia a day after signing an agreement with Papua New Guinea that will allow refugees sent to the controversial Manus Island detention facility to be resettled permanently in that country.

Cambodia’s opposition party whip Son Chhay, who settled in Australia as a refugee in 1980, said that “whatever’s going to happen, it should not just be for the money. Cambodia should not become a dumping ground [for refugees]”.

Cambodian Center for Human Rights chairman Ou Virak said the issue of refugees is something the Australian government should be extremely careful with: “I’m against this notion of exporting problems, exporting responsibility.”

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he was not aware of plans to build refugee detention facilities.

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