Hostility from locals towards refugees living outside Australian-run detention camps on the island nation of Nauru has been escalating in recent days, but advocacy groups in touch with the refugees have said resettlement in Cambodia remains no more appealing.
Online news site Guardian Australia reported yesterday that an Iranian refugee was stoned and beaten Saturday, while on Monday, a refugee employed as a carpenter was forced to quit his job after three men threatened his life and claimed refugees were not allowed to work there.
Four teenage refugees settled in the community were also attacked last week.
“Other men have reported having cars swerve at them and being spat at in the street,” the site reported.
“‘F— you, refugee’ is a very common slogan these days in Nauru,” one refugee said.
But despite harassment from some Nauruans, who come from a country with high unemployment, refugees are reportedly still not considering resettling in Cambodia under a voluntary scheme the government signed with Australia in September.
“The people on Nauru are terrified about the prospect of going to Cambodia. Part of that terror is that they are in a terrible situation now, but they have [also] been given no details about the transfer to Cambodia that would make them feel safe,” said Pamela Curr, a refugee rights advocate from Melbourne’s Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC).
“At the moment, I think the Australian government is deliberately allowing the current situation on Nauru to be as frightening as possible in order to entice released refugees to agree to go to Cambodia, but so far nobody has agreed to go.”
Some rights advocates have admitted that Cambodia may be a better option than Nauru. But according to Curr, refugees’ perception of life here is dismal.
A shift to Cambodia would also involve refugees accepting that resettlement in Australia will never happen, said Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition.
Nauru is currently giving five-year visas to processed refugees. “They know if they are on Nauru then Australia is a chance – but once in Cambodia, not only do they think it would be no better than Nauru, there would be no way to move on from there,” Rintoul said.
Immigration Department chief Sok Phal said on Monday that he visited Australia last month and discussed the scheme with officials there.
Curr said detainees had recently been told that they will soon start learning Khmer in the camps. As of September, there were 1,140 people detained on Nauru. About 200 are living in the community and have been processed as genuine refugees, a requirement for resettlement.
Spokespeople for Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison have not replied to requests for comment but last month said claims that refugees had been told they had no choice but to go to Cambodia were “outrageous”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA