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Gears in motion for refugee deal

Australia’s regional processing centre on Manus Island
Australia’s regional processing centre on Manus Island. AFP

Gears in motion for refugee deal

An Australian government official taking charge of a controversial refugee resettlement scheme with Cambodia expected to be signed imminently has arrived in Phnom Penh to take up his position.

Greg Kelly, who previously served as co-manager of the regional support office of international people smuggling forum the Bali Process, started work at the embassy on Wednesday, according to a refugee advocate he has contacted.

“The person from Australia [that] is going to be in charge of all of this started work at the embassy the day before yesterday. I’m going to meet with him this afternoon,” said Sister Denise Coghlan of the Jesuit Refugee Service Cambodia yesterday. Contacted after the meeting she said she could not offer further details.

Sources familiar with the refugee office under the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Immigration have also told the Post that the office has taken on at least 10 new staff in preparation for the resettlement scheme.

The developments suggest both sides are gearing up to sign a deal that would see an unspecified number of refugees processed on the pacific atoll of Nauru resettled in Cambodia.

A Foreign Ministry official told the Post on Sunday that Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison would visit Cambodia “soon”. It is not clear when Morrison will arrive, but the Australian Human Rights Commission has announced it will question the minister in Canberra on August 22 about children in immigration detention.

The Post has confirmed that Craig Chittick, Australia’s ambassador for people smuggling, has rooms at a local hotel booked under his name for the night of August 20.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Australian Ambassador Alison Burrows met last Friday, while Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Hor Namhong – who broke word of the refugee proposal in February – attended an ASEAN summit in Naypidaw in Myanmar, attended by his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop, on the weekend.

An immigration department source said yesterday that the Cambodian and Australian governments had been in contact with the United Nations Refugee Agency for talks about the resettlement scheme.

“As far as I know, they are in discussion. It’s quite difficult and they have to consult with the UNHCR,” he said.

The UNHCR in Bangkok confirmed yesterday that there had been meetings between the parties at which it had been briefed on the “basic principles” of the agreement.

Spokeswoman Vivian Tan said the UN has not seen the memorandum of understanding being drafted, though it has asked for a copy.

She added that the number of refugees involved in the deal had not been discussed and that while the UNHCR had “raised some concerns on the principles”, it was “too soon” to comment on the arrangement.

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