Cambodian refugee officials are expected to arrive on the shores of chaotic Nauru this month to interview two Iranian refugees about resettling in the Kingdom under a controversial deal with Australia.
Tan Sovichea, refugee director of the Interior Ministry’s Immigration Department, confirmed yesterday that two refugees from Iran – a man and a woman, both believed to be over 30 – had expressed interest in moving to Cambodia.
Of the four Iranian refugees who previously moved here under the scheme, three have since returned to Iran.
“So far from Nauru, three refugees returned back home to Iran. With their own people, there is no more discrimination or torture sanctioned by the government,” Sovichea said.
Although he said he was still waiting on paperwork from the Australian government, he expected the trip to Nauru would take place later this month, to ensure the refugees were willing volunteers and not coerced.
“We go there and confirm they are really voluntary – if, after our presentation, they change their mind, we cannot force them,” he said.
The Australian government has shelled out almost A$8 million (US$5.9 million) for the scheme to date, with a Senate Estimates hearing last week showing Cambodia had received almost A$5 million (out of A$40 million promised in aid) and A$2.71 million spent on resettlement (out of an allotted A$15 million).
The auditor-general for Australia, Grant Hehir, last month indicated a performance audit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s management of Australian aid to Cambodia was “being considered” for investigation as part of an audit program to be finalised mid-2016.
Hehir’s statement came in response to a call from Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young to gauge the “value for money” of the deal, with “significant public funding being used to resettle very few people”.
Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition said this latest resettlement of Iranian refugees could see them follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.
“Cambodia will remain a stepping stone to somewhere that can provide the security and protection that they need,” he said.
He said despite “appalling” conditions on Nauru – where two refugees self-immolated last week – only a handful of refugees had taken up the offer, which includes $8,000 in cash and resettlement assistance from the International Organization for Migration for one year.
Spokespeople for the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton did not respond to requests for comment.