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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Officials still mum on alleged refugee request

Officials still mum on alleged refugee request

While details remain scant about an alleged request from the Australian government that Cambodia take in some refugees seeking asylum there, local advocates have cautioned that Cambodia is not a proper resettlement destination for any significant number of refugees.

The request, revealed by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong after a meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Saturday, is yet to be confirmed by Canberra, despite Namhong’s comments being widely reported.

An Australian foreign ministry media liaison yesterday directed the Post to a statement released by the Australian embassy during Bishop’s official visit that “outlines the full range of issues discussed during Ms Bishop’s visit to Cambodia”.

The statement makes no mention of refugees but says that cooperation on people smuggling under a forum on transnational crime known as the Bali process was discussed.

“Australia and Cambodia will continue to work through the Bali process to manage processing of illegal maritime arrivals and returns,” it says.

Australian lawyer David Manne, executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, told ABC Radio Australia yesterday that regional cooperation on the distribution of refugees has been “on the table” as part of Bali process discussions between states.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong yesterday said he did not know “any details” of Australia’s request. Officials at the Interior Ministry – tasked with forming a working group to discuss the request – could not be reached for comment.

Sister Denise Coghlan, the Cambodia director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, said the Kingdom would not be able to handle many refugees.

“I do not believe that Cambodia has the competence, structure or resources to do this for any larger number of people than are here at the moment,” she said, noting that at the start of 2013 there were 82 asylum seekers and refugees here.

Since the government took over processing of refugees from the UN in 2009 – days before 20 Uighur asylum seekers were forcibly returned to China – very few have sought asylum here voluntarily, Coghlan said.

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