Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Australia pushes refugee reunions

Australia pushes refugee reunions

Cambodia’s first group of refugees arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport last year under a resettlement deal struck with Australia.
Cambodia’s first group of refugees arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport last year under a resettlement deal struck with Australia. Pha Lina

Australia pushes refugee reunions

The Australian government is pushing its Cambodian counterparts to allow the families of three refugees – due to arrive in Cambodia soon under a controversial resettlement deal – to meet them in the Kingdom, an Interior Ministry official said yesterday.

Head of the Interior Ministry’s refugee department Tan Sovichea said the men, a Pakistani, Afghan and Sri Lankan, all over 50 years of age, had been cleared to settle in Cambodia and would arrive this month, though the subsequent request from the Australians was still subject to discussion.

“The Australian government wants to arrange for them to meet their families here, but the Cambodian side has not discussed deeply on this,” Sovichea said. “They haven’t mentioned how many [family members], they just want a family reunion.”

Sovichea said the request was for visitation. He said if any of the family members wanted to stay in Cambodia, they would need to apply as migrants.

Cambodia in 2014 agreed to take refugees held by Australia on the Pacific island of Nauru in exchange for an A$40 million aid pledge. The deal, under which Australia also stumped up A$15 million for resettlement costs, is part of Canberra’s hard-line refugee policy, which it says is aimed at discouraging people from attempting to reach its shores by boat.

The scheme has been widely panned by critics, with only five refugees opting to move to the Kingdom and four of those ultimately returning to their native countries.

Article 24 of the memorandum of understanding underpinning the Cambodian resettlement deal does guarantee refugees the right to have dependent family members reside in Cambodia as regular migrants.

But Sovichea said that while families of refugees could freely travel to Cambodia if they had the means, reunions were not covered by the agreement, saying more discussion was needed.

As for relocation expenses, he said “I don’t know whether the Australians will pay or what.”

It’s unclear what role the prospect of seeing their families played in the latest group’s decision to take the deal. The Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh was unable to provide a response by press time yesterday.

Via email, a spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection said it did not comment on individual cases but added: “Australia and Cambodia are committed to an arrangement that provides refugees with the support they need to integrate into the Cambodian community and build new lives.”

On Sunday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a further toughening of Canberra’s stance, flagging new legislation to ban all adults sent to offshore immigration centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island from ever entering Australia, even as tourists or on business, regardless of whether they’re found to be refugees or not.

Talking afterwards to ABC radio in Australia, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the government could help separated families move elsewhere to encourage refugees to accept resettlement in a third country.

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia unveils new quarantine regulations

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Cambodia sets new Covid-19 quarantine rules

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Hun Sen: Cambodia set to fully reopen

    Prime Minister Hun Sen concludes that the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, during which many people either flocked to their hometowns for family reunion or gathered at tourist attractions across the country, has not caused an outbreak of Covid-19. In a special address to

  • Will Evergrande change the way Chinese developers do business in Cambodia?

    China’s property sector policy has exposed the grim financial condition of real estate developers including those operating in Cambodia, which raises questions over the viability of their projects and business going forward The dark blue netting draping over one of Yuetai Group Co Ltd’

  • Cambodia resumes issuance of tourist visas

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has announced the resumption of its tourist visa and visa exemption programme after a long hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In a letter dated October 20 and addressed to foreign embassies and consulates, foreign minister Prak Sokhonn

  • Cambodia voted ‘world’s friendliest country’ in Rough Guides reader poll

    Cambodia ranked number one among the “World’s Friendliest Countries”, according to a reader poll conducted by London-based international website “Rough Guides”. Taking submissions through Twitter and Facebook, “Rough Guides”, a well-known travel agency and publisher of guidebooks, said the Kingdom “was by far the