A government official who is overseeing the refugee resettlement deal has flown to Australia following reports that four refugees who have applied to move to Phnom Penh were secretly transferred to Darwin on Sunday, a source at the Interior Ministry has said.
The source, a senior security official at the ministry who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to talk to the media, said General Khieu Sopheak had gone to Australia this week, but declined to comment when asked if his visit was related to the expected transfer of refugees.
“Khieu Sopheak is in Australia right now. He has some duties and tasks there, but I have no further details to share,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Post reported that the refugees had been secretly flown from Nauru to Australia. Australian media later confirmed that the four refugees had been transferred to Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territories where they were being held in an immigration facility ahead of their expected charter flight to Cambodia.
Numerous Cambodian officials either could not be reached yesterday or declined to comment on the nature of Sopheak’s visit to Australia; however, Fairfax Media has quoted an unnamed source as saying that a charter flight is expected to bring the refugees to the Kingdom in the next two weeks.
Australian Minister of Immigration and Border Affairs Peter Dutton yesterday seemed to hint that the refugees’ applications had been accepted by Cambodia, which has not yet confirmed its decision.
“We have an arrangement with Cambodia, so people on Nauru we will try and transition them across to Cambodia,” Fairfax quoted Dutton as saying.
“There is a small group of people that will go across as a first try,” he added. “Hopefully they will be in Cambodia shortly.”
Kerm Sarin, director of the Interior Ministry’s Refugee Department, could not be reached, while Dutton’s office did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Australia on Tuesday issued its 2015 federal budget, which saw foreign aid gutted in the region but Cambodia’s left largely unscathed, a move development experts have said was a gift to Cambodia for signing the deal last September. Canberra is also expected to foot the bill for the refugees’ needs while in Cambodia, as well as provide an additional aid package of A$40 million (US$32.4 million).
The budget also allotted hundreds of millions of dollars to resettlement, including in Cambodia, though a spokeswoman for Dutton declined to give a breakdown of the figures this week.
The refugees were allegedly told by Australian immigration prior to their departure that they would not be allowed to use Facebook while in Australia, according to a refugee still on the island who has spoken to the group in Darwin.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA