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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - With one Nauru transfer remaining, second oversight agency added

Refugees from an Australian-run detention centre on Nauru and their handlers leave Phnom Penh International Airport last year.
Refugees from an Australian-run detention centre on Nauru and their handlers leave Phnom Penh International Airport last year. Pha Lina

With one Nauru transfer remaining, second oversight agency added

The Australian government has quietly contracted a new organisation to resettle refugees from Nauru to Cambodia under its controversial A$55 million deal, but confusion shrouds its role, which appears to replicate that of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Connect Settlement Services, which is contracted by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Border Force to support refugees in Nauru, has been working in Cambodia for the past month.

Spokesperson Laurie Nowell said AMES Australia and Queensland-based MDA are both partners with Connect Settlement Services, “which has been contracted to provide settlement services to support people transferred from Nauru to Cambodia”.

“Connect was invited to tender for the contract when the organisation previously doing this work decided not to continue with it,” he said in an email.

Nowell said his understanding was that IOM was no longer doing the work of resettling refugees in the Kingdom, which includes tasks such as helping them connect with their local community, helping them find work or start a business, and referring them to health services.

However, IOM spokesman Joe Lowry said the organisation was still funded by the Australian government and “will continue to work with the Government of Cambodia in providing settlement services to any additional refugees should they chose to come from Nauru”.

A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection initially refused to disclose whether it had contracted a new organisation but responded when questioned directly about Connect and its overlap with IOM.

“IOM remains a key partner in the delivery of services to Nauru-determined refugees who volunteer to resettle in Cambodia,” the spokesperson said by email.

“The Australian Government also works with other settlement service providers to ensure that refugees voluntarily settled in Cambodia are provided with the full support and services required to be able to integrate well into their new community in Cambodia.”

However, when asked to clarify the confusion surrounding the duplicate roles, the spokesperson said they had “nothing further to add at this time”. The spokesperson did not respond to questions about the cost of the new contract, which Nowell said was confidential.

Both Kerm Sarin, director of the administration department at the General Department of Immigration, and Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said the Australian government had given them no official or detailed information about the new refugee resettlement organisation operating in the Kingdom.

The Australian government allotted A$15 million to fund the resettlement of refugees, but only six moved to Cambodia and, of those, only one – Rohingya Muslim Mohammed Rashid – still remains in the country.

Five others – one Rohingya and four Iranians – returned to their home countries after short stints in the Kingdom.

Earlier this year, Rashid lamented IOM’s alleged lack of support after suffering a series of medical issues, and yesterday said he was still unwell. He said he had not heard of Connect and added that he was not currently being helped by IOM.

Ian Rintoul, of the Sydney-based Refugee Action Coalition, condemned the secrecy and said the latest move appeared to be part of an effort by the Australian government to streamline Connect’s roles on Nauru and Cambodia to keep the toxic issue at arm’s length.

“This policy has clearly failed yet the government is still involved with rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic that is the Cambodia solution,” he said. “It is typical of the government to keep these operations from any possible public scrutiny. They have spent $55 million already on this so-called solution . . . They have the obligation to explain why they are spending even more money on a policy that has clearly failed.”

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