News of the deal to send refugees to Cambodia was met with dismay on the Pacific island of Nauru yesterday, where about 1,200 refugees and asylum seekers are living.
Reports say six teenage boys and one girl have attempted to commit suicide or self-harm.
About 200 people on Nauru who have already been assessed as genuine refugees are likely to be the first offered the option of resettlement in Cambodia. Most are from South Asia or the Middle East.
Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said earlier this week that they would be eligible for resettlement in Cambodia, but only if they volunteered.
However, it’s also been made clear to them they will never be allowed to reach Australia.
Speaking to Post Weekend ahead of the signing, one of a small number of assessed refugees living outside the detention camp in a community known as “Fly Camp”, who cannot be named for security reasons, said the inhabitants were growing increasingly nervous.
“We don’t know what Scott Morrison is doing. Sometimes he gives us [Temporary Protection Visas] and sometimes he deals us [to] Cambodia,” the refugee, from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan and who fled the Taliban, said.
“In our country, [the] Taliban can come [and] kill us [anytime]; they will cut my throat, and I will die quickly. But Australia [is] killing us day by day. We don’t know about Cambodia, but we need to [escape] this [psychological] torture.”
In a previous interview he said: “You know, we are [the Australian government’s] animals. In the words of Scott Morrison, he wants to sell us – sometimes to one country, sometimes to another country. But no one is ready to [welcome] us.”
Suvendrini Perera, of Curtin University’s Asia Pacific Institute, who works closely with the refugees, said they were in a “high state of distress” and confirmed reports of suicide attempts.
“Not only the Australian but the Cambodian government and people should feel very concerned about the state of these refugees,” Perera said. “I wonder how the Cambodian people might feel about being forced to become complicit in a situation that puts at risk people who have been found to be refugees and who only want a chance to make a new life.”
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, as of August 31, there was a total of 1,084 refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and 1,233 on Nauru. Cambodia hosts 70 refugees and 20 asylum seekers.