Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia denies Aus refugee claim

Cambodia denies Aus refugee claim

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton talks to the media at Phnom Penh International Airport earlier this year during his visit to the Kingdom. Kimberley McCosker

Cambodia denies Aus refugee claim

A senior Cambodian government official has denied that refugees are to be resettled in the Kingdom from Nauru “very shortly” as Australia’s immigration minister told reporters on Wednesday during a visit to Sri Lanka.

Peter Dutton, minister for immigration and border affairs, told reporters in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, where he has signed an agreement on people smuggling, that Australia expected the imminent arrival of refugees from Nauru to Phnom Penh​, according to media reports​.

“We’re very keen to get a small group to go to Cambodia, which as I say will happen very shortly. Through that small group we will demonstrate that Cambodia will provide an opportunity for a fresh start for these people and their families.

“We believe that will then send a very clear message to the remaining people on Nauru that Cambodia is an appropriate option for them to consider,” he said.

“In the end, people understand now that the illegal way to Australia is closed,” he added.

But General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, which is overseeing the deal, denied that any firm plans had been made to transfer refugees to Cambodia in the coming days.

“I have no update about that. We are going to make a report to the government and they will make a decision,” he said.

In what was described by refugee advocates as a “major political embarrassment” for Canberra, the Australian government issued a letter to asylum seekers on the island last month that said the first flight to Phnom Penh would depart as early as April 21.

After Cambodian officials expressed surprise at the assertion, a delegation from the Interior Ministry’s refugee department visited Nauru late last month to assess the applications of a small number of asylum seekers who had reportedly applied to resettle in Cambodia.

According to Sopheak, the delegation has yet to submit its report on the visit to Interior Minister Sar Kheng and other senior officials.

Australia signed the deal to send a potentially unlimited number of refugees who have been processed in its offshore detention facility on the Melanesian island on September 26, 2014, in exchange for an estimated $31 million​ in aid as well as Canberra covering the costs of the resettlement scheme.

​At least four asylum seekers in the Australian detention centre have accepted cash payments of thousands of dollars ​and had their refugee status determinations fast-tracked in order to be eligible to come to Cambodia​, according to refugee advocates.

MOST VIEWED

  • Rainsy stopped in Paris from boarding Thai flight

    Airline officials at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport on Thursday prevented Sam Rainsy from boarding his flight to Bangkok ahead of his announced return to Cambodia on Saturday. Prime Minister Hun Sen had earlier in the day assured Phnom Penh residents that there would be

  • Analyst: Rainsy blocked from boarding flight 'an excuse'

    THAI Airways not allowing Sam Rainsy on its route from Paris to Bangkok on Thursday is being used as an excuse to keep his standing among fellow coup plotters and his uninformed supporters as flights to non-Asean countries are available, an analyst said on Friday.

  • Rainsy lands in Malaysia

    Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy arrived in Kuala Lumpur airport on Saturday afternoon after boarding a flight from Paris, where he has been living for more than four years. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Koy Kuong said on Saturday that Cambodia respected

  • Sokha continues call for dropping of charge after bail conditions reduced

    Not satisfied with having his bail conditions reduced, allowing him to travel freely in Cambodia, Kem Sokha says he wants his charge totally dropped. “As an innocent man who has been in detention for two years even without being found guilty, I continue to demand

  • Touch: Rainsy will never return

    Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has claimed it has achieved 70 per cent of its struggle to find a solution to the current political situation in the Kingdom. Just before boarding a plane at Charles de Gaulle

  • Prayut indicates no entry into Thailand for CNRP’s Rainsy

    Cambodian government officials on Wednesday welcomed the position of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha after he indicated that Sam Rainsy would not be allowed to return to Cambodia through Thailand. “According to our commitment to Asean, we will not interfere in each other’s internal