A second group of refugees – including three Iranians and a Rohingya – have agreed to settle in Cambodia under a controversial $A40 million resettlement arrangement with Australia, a government official confirmed yesterday.
Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak said a Cambodian delegation would soon travel to the Pacific Island of Nauru to meet the group, whose ethnic make-up is identical to the first four arrivals who touched down in June.
“We have information that four more refugees from Nauru have agreed to resettle in Cambodia,” Sopheak said.
“We will send our expert officials to interview them. The date [for the trip] could be set for the end of this month or early October.”
Sopheak’s comments follow a surprise two-day visit by Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to Phnom Penh this week, during which he held talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen and senior Cambodian immigration officials.
The discussions came after comments made by Sopheak that were interpreted by foreign media outlets as signalling the deal was in jeopardy and also followed the decision by one of the original arrivals, a Rohingya man, to apply to return home to Myanmar after only two months in Cambodia.
Sopheak said the new group’s decision to volunteer had been confirmed prior to meetings with Dutton.
Sopheak – who was unable to confirm the gender of the new group of volunteers – said Cambodian officials wanted to meet the four to ensure they had, in fact, volunteered.
Referring to the group – and the Rohingya man set to return to Myanmar – Sopheak said that the government “respects the will of the refugees” as to whether they wanted to reside in the Kingdom.
“We don’t want to see them committing suicide,” he added jokingly.
In exchange for $28 million in aid and an additional $10.8 million to cover resettlement costs, Cambodia agreed last September to host refugees held in the Australian-run detention camp on Nauru.
However, only four people initially took up the offer.Since then, the Australian government has faced mounting pressure over an arrangement already widely slammed by human rights groups and the UN.
Critics say Canberra is shirking its responsibilities under international law by transferring refugees to a country with a poor human rights record.
Yesterday, a spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection said “a number of refugees in Nauru” had expressed an interest in settling in Cambodia, adding that the Australian Government would make announcements “when appropriate”.