The International Organization for Migration has formally agreed to help refugees living in Australian-run detention camps on Nauru resettle in Cambodia after persuading the government to give them the right to live and work anywhere in the Kingdom.
The IOM has mulled getting involved in the controversial scheme for months, following a request from member states Cambodia, Nauru and Australia.
It has decided to lend assistance after Cambodia agreed to meet several key conditions, not just for refugees from Nauru but for all refugees living in the country.
These include family reunification rights, the right to live and work anywhere in the country, and the provision of legal documents required for access to health care, education and employment.
Allowing the refugees to live anywhere seemingly reverses a provision of the MoU signed by Australia and Cambodia in September, which said that settlement services would be offered solely outside Phnom Penh after refugees leave temporary accommodation.
The government’s reported commitment comes as provincial authorities in Ratanakkiri continue to seek the deportation to Vietnam of almost 40 Montagnard asylum seekers who have crossed the border.
IOM regional spokesperson Joe Lowry said yesterday that the refugees would have better opportunities available to them in Cambodia than in Nauru.
“Their lives have been on hold for a long time in Nauru. They didn’t expect to be there. They expected to be going to Australia, and it seems that is not going to happen to them,” he said.
He added that there was no reason to think refugees wouldn’t try their best to settle down and find employment given that those who are put in the hands of people smugglers are “often the best and brightest in their communities”.
Some groups in the Kingdom, including student federations, have expressed concerns that an influx of refugees could increase competition for jobs. But as of now, it is understood that no refugees on Nauru have actually agreed to move here.
Rights groups, the UN Refugee Agency, the opposition CNRP and the Australian Greens party have heavily criticised the refugee deal, which involves Australia paying Cambodia $35 million in extra
Lowry admitted that getting involved “was not an easy decision for the [IOM] to take” but that its decision was is in the best interest of the refugees.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said yesterday via a spokesperson that he welcomed the IOM’s decision, citing its “extensive experience in resettling people around the globe”.
Dutton said its decision to help facilitate the relocation and integration of refugees “will smooth their resettlement path”.
Officials at the Cambodian refugee office could not be reached for comment.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY TAING VIDA