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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Visiting Aussie senator decries ‘mad’ deal

Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha (centre) talks with Australian Senator Sarah Hanson-Young
Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha (centre) talks with Australian Senator Sarah Hanson-Young yesterday at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Visiting Aussie senator decries ‘mad’ deal

An Australian senator visiting Cambodia has slammed her government for “taking extreme advantage” of the Kingdom by offering an extra $35 million in aid in exchange for allowing Australia to resettle unwanted refugees here.

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young from the Australian Greens Party said she is on a “fact-finding mission” to investigate what life could be like for refugees processed in detention centres on the island of Nauru if they choose to move to Cambodia.

In an interview with the Post yesterday following a meeting with acting opposition leader Kem Sokha, Hanson-Young said the $35 million was “bribe money” and that she understood the concerns of Cambodians that have protested against the arrangement.

Refugee deal under the microscope

Their grievances, aside from those related to human rights, have included economic, health and security concerns that have bordered on xenophobia.

“Look, I think the opposition to the deal overall comes from reality – that local Cambodians are struggling to deal with the needs that they have,” she said.

“I think there is a sense that this just isn’t fair. This is the Australian government taking extreme advantage of the Cambodian community and the Cambodian government and we should be better than that.”

The Australian government yesterday announced that asylum seekers who registered with the United Nation’s refugee agency in Indonesia after June of this year would no longer be eligible for resettlement in Australia in a bid to stop asylum seekers from using it as a transit destination.

Hanson-Young said that the move flew in the face of “genuine regional cooperation” on refugees.

“We are at a situation where we’re paying other countries to take refugees from our nation, and at the same time we’re cutting the numbers of people we [will] resettle ourselves from the region,” she said. “That is arrogant. It is total madness.”

The senator said she had invited Sokha to visit Australia during their meeting to speak to the Australian public about local opposition to the refugee deal and that he had agreed.

Sokha said yesterday that formal letters sent to the Australian Embassy outlining his concerns have been ignored.

“I told Sarah about our concerns in relation to the agreement. It’s not just us [the CNRP], but almost half the nation that supports the CNRP are worried about the deal,” he said.

On Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the government would forge ahead with resettlement despite protests against it.

“I think that normally when the Cambodian government does something, it will not satisfy all Cambodians,” he said. “However, in the end . . . things will go smoothly without the problems that they expected.”

Hanson-Young is continuing her trip with visits to Siem Reap and Battambang.

But Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, said on Monday that she had “turned up at the wrong time” given on-the-ground support arrangements were not yet in place.

“So she will go over there, she will whinge and complain like she always does and people will ignore her as they should,” he said.

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