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Q&A: How legal is the resettlement?

From an international law perspective, is this resettlement scheme legal?
The refugee convention envisages that refugees should have durable solutions. In other words, they need a solution at some point and resettlement is one of those. Countries like Australia, when they receive people who are refugees, have generally allowed them to settle there because they have the capacity to do so. So while the refugee convention doesn’t preclude people being resettled somewhere else, this is an aberrannt approach. One of the objectives of the refugee convention is to help countries share protection responsibilities, but this looks like responsibility shifting.

Both Cambodia and Australia are signatories to the refugee convention, so what’s the problem here? 
We have to look to the extent to what protection and assistance is available on the ground. It’s known that Cambodia only hosts a small number of refugees and asylum seekers. There is no government support, and they are reliant on NGOs for assistance. There’s a lack of support services such as provision of mental health services, which are very important given that many refugees have suffered and continue to suffer from the effects of trauma. Given that there are already issues for Cambodian nationals with obtaining identity documents, access to land and so on, it’s likely these problems would be heightened for refugees.

Scott Morrison has said the refugee resettlement should not be a ticket to a first-class economy. How does this argument stand up in relation to the Cambodia deal?
I think Morrison is operating on the idea that as soon as you leave your country and cross over the border, you are OK, because you are no longer at risk of persecution. Just because you are not directly at risk from your persecutor, it does not mean you’re safe, you can receive adequate protection and you can lead a dignified life. The countries from which refugees come and end up in Australia, those transit countries can’t provide that sort of protection. Rather than bilateral deals with individual countries, Australia could make a much better contribution if it worked in a respectful and cooperative manner with its neighbours to build sustainable protection-oriented solutions.

Professor Jane McAdam, director at Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW



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