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Nauru refugee arrives in secret

Refugees from a detention centre on Nauru arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport in June for resettlement in Cambodia.
Refugees from a detention centre on Nauru arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport in June for resettlement in Cambodia. Pha Lina

Nauru refugee arrives in secret

A refugee was secretly transferred to Cambodia last week from the Pacific island of Nauru, becoming the fifth person to move to the Kingdom under a controversial multimillion-dollar deal signed with Australia last year.

Joe Lowry, the International Organization for Migration’s Asia-Pacific spokesperson, said a male refugee arrived in Cambodia last week for whom the IOM “is providing resettlement services”.

“More than that I cannot say,” he added, citing the IOM’s confidentiality rules.

Services offered to refugees who volunteer for resettlement under the deal have included Khmer language lessons, health and employment services, and “cultural and social orientation”.

The first refugees to arrive under the deal – a reportedly ethnic Rohingya man from Myanmar, two Iranian men and an Iranian woman – were temporarily put up in a sprawling villa on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

The refugee from Myanmar returned home last month, while the three Iranians have since moved into accommodation elsewhere in the city.

Lowry said he could not confirm whether the same villa was being used to house the latest arrival, and also declined to reveal the man’s ethnicity.

But Kerm Sarin, spokesman of the Interior Ministry’s refugee department, said the man was an ethnic Rohingya.

He claimed not to have received any further information about the refugee because of staff shortages during the Water Festival and referred further questions to the IOM.

“Now it’s the responsibility of the IOM to provide resettlement services, including eating, living and studying,” he said.

He added that he was not aware of any more scheduled arrivals.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak yesterday declined to comment on the latest arrival, saying he was not in a position to answer questions about the deal.

Earlier this month he told the Post that the government had given the “green light” for two volunteers from Nauru to come to Cambodia and was waiting on the Australian government to do the rest.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton did not respond to requests for comment.

The A$40 million agreement – which was signed over champagne in September 2014 – has been shrouded in secrecy since it was first raised in a closed-door meeting between Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Prime Minister Hun Sen early last year.

The deal has failed to attract large numbers of volunteers and has been heavily criticised by refugee advocates.

Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, said a renewed push by Australia to attract volunteers had been met with hostility.

“They push Cambodia information sheets under the doors in the single men’s camp and there is some renewed cold calling and harassment” by Connect Settlement Services, a government contractor on the island.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, criticised the secrecy surrounding the latest transfer.

“It’s particularly worrisome that Australia decided to keep this refugee transfer so quiet when sending a refugee to a country like Cambodia, which has an extremely mixed record in protecting refugee rights – despite Phnom Penh’s written commitments made in the Cambodia-Australia deal.”

He added that “ensuring transparency” was “critical for refugee advocates to know where refugees are and ensure that the protection that they were promised is followed through on”.

Additional reporting by Chhay Channyda

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