Prime Minister Hun Sen attempted last week to alleviate the fears of National Assembly First Deputy President Kem Sokha about the social and economic costs of Cambodia’s controversial refugee deal with Australia.
In a letter signed on November 17 and obtained by the Post yesterday, the premier told Sokha that the deal to resettle refugees processed in Australian detention centres on the Pacific island of Nauru was made “in a spirit of strengthening friendship and cooperation with Australia”.
Reaffirming details laid out in the September agreement, Hun Sen wrote that all costs of the resettlement will be shouldered by Australia. He added that Australia would offer support to the Cambodian communities in which refugees were resettled.
After one year, Hun Sen wrote, Australia would support any requests for repatriation or for asylum in another country.
Sokha, deputy leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, wrote to Hun Sen via National Assembly President Heng Samrin on October 27 after protesters voiced their concerns to him about the social and economic impacts of the deal.
But in his own letter, Hun Sen said the deal was “not a new matter for Cambodia because it has already received a total of 85 asylum seekers and refugees from Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Pakistan, Palestine, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, the Congo and Sri Lanka”.
In a statement on Friday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the government was failing the refugees already living in the Kingdom.
HRW said that since the government took over refugee processing from the United Nations in 2009, no refugees have received residence cards, cutting off access to basic services.
In interviews with the group, current refugees spoke of extortion, discrimination and poverty.
Sister Denise Coghlan of the Jesuit Refugee Service Cambodia said the “chief questions” the government needs to answer before the resettlement are “the provision of documents for refugees already here and refugees coming” to the Kingdom.
Sokha could not be reached for comment yesterday.
While the resettlement to Cambodia is being touted as “voluntary”, on Nauru, a threatening letter has been distributed signed by the “Youth Republic of Nauru” warning refugees to “go away” or to “get ready for the bad things happening and waiting ahead”, according to the Refugee Action Coalition Sydney.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY