The government has “agreed in principle” to a controversial refugee resettlement scheme with Australia, but will hold off on inking a deal until the proposal has been further analysed, a senior Foreign Ministry official announced yesterday.
A visiting senior UN rights official also said that the United Nations would be willing to provide assistance to ensure that any resettlement agreement meets international standards.
Ouch Borith, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made the comments to reporters yesterday after a meeting between Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri.
“In general, the government has agreed in principle, but it has not yet been given the OK,” Borith said, before clarifying that a committee was still “studying” the proposal, the exact details of which have been kept under wraps by both governments.
“The government agreeing in principle means that it is still under study. And we will do it in accordance to international standards, because the main important thing is [that this] is based on a volunteer principle, without [Cambodia] being forced,” he said.
In response to questions from reporters, Borith also denied that the deal, rumoured to involve $40 million being paid for Cambodia to settle 100 refugees processed at Australian detention facilities on the Pacific island nation of Nauru, had any financial or aid imperative for the government.
“Cambodia is [dealing with the refugee proposal] as a humanitarian act,” Borith said.
Simon Fellows, first secretary at the Australian embassy, declined to comment.
Earlier this month, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed that his government had asked Cambodia to participate in the regional resettlement of refugees.
In her comments to the media, Pansieri declined to make any “firm statements” on the Australian proposal due to a lack of clear details, but said that the UN would be willing to provide assistance if Cambodia decided to settle refugees.
“What we think is important is to note that Cambodia is well aware of its international commitments to human rights standards, keen to abide by them and to the extent there is any need for cooperation, we stand ready to provide support to ensure that standards are met,” she said.
Pansieri, the most senior UN rights official to visit the Kingdom since 2010, also said that the UN would like to see a transparent investigation into the shootings of protesters by authorities on Veng Sreng Boulevard in early January that left at least four dead.
Earlier in the day, she attended a civil society workshop on collective land registration for indigenous communities, where she criticised economic land concessions being prioritised over indigenous land titling.
“In practice, what is happening in some degrees is that land concessions are receiving priority before communal land titling,” she said.
The government has said that 10 new communities would now receive titles every year, but Pansieri said it could do more.
“I think we can be more ambitious than that.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA