The Cambodian government has “agreed in principle” to a controversial refugee resettlement scheme with Australia, a senior foreign ministry official announced today, but will hold off on inking a deal until the proposal has been further analysed.
A senior visiting United Nations rights official also said that the UN would be willing to provide assistance to ensure that any resettlement agreement meets international standards.
Ouch Borith, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made the comments to reporters today after a meeting between Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri.
“In general the government has agreed in principle, but it has not yet [been given] the OK,” Borith said, before clarifying that a government committee was still “studying” Australia’s proposal, the exact details of which have been kept under wraps by both governments.
“The government agreeing in principle means that it is still under study and we will do it in accordance to international standards. Because the main important thing is [that this] is based on a volunteer principle without [Cambodia] being forced,” he said.
In response to questions from reporters, Borith also denied that the deal, rumoured to involve $40 million being paid for Cambodia to settle 100 refugees, had any financial or aid imperative for the government.
“Cambodia is [dealing with the refugee proposal] as a humanitarian act.”
Simon Fellows, first secretary at the Australian Embassy, declined to comment today.
Earlier this month, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed that his government had asked Cambodia to participate in the regional resettlement of refugees.
In her comments to the media, Pansieri declined to make any “firm statements” on the Australian proposal due to a lack of clear details, but said that the UN would be willing to provide assistance if Cambodia decided to settle refugees.
“What we think is important is to note that Cambodia is well aware of its international commitments to human rights standards, keen to abide by them and to the extent there is any need for cooperation, we stand ready to provide support to ensure that standards are met.”