The Australian government has quietly transferred another refugee from Nauru to Cambodia, the Kingdom’s refugee director confirmed this week.
The man, who fled war-torn Syria, was sent from the island detention centre of Nauru to Phnom Penh before Khmer New Year, according to General Tan Sovichea, head of the Interior Ministry’s Refugee Department.
The Syrian man was one of two refugees who had expressed interest in relocating to the Kingdom in recent months. But Sovichea said on Tuesday that the second man had in the end “changed his mind”.
“They volunteered to come to Cambodia, they already were approved to come, but when the date came, they withdrew the application,” he said.
The latest arrival is one of just seven refugees in Nauru to take up a contentious offer from the Australian government in which refugees who attempted to go to Australia by boat and who have spent years in indefinite offshore detention can choose to move to Cambodia instead, as they will not be resettled in Australia.
But of those seven, only three currently remain in the Kingdom, including Mohammed Rashid, a Rohingya Muslim refugee from Myanmar, and a Syrian man, who has asked to be identified only by his first name, Abdullah. The other four – a man from Myanmar and three Iraqi refugees – returned to their homelands.
The controversial resettlement deal was struck in 2014 after Australia agreed to give some A$40 million in aid to Cambodia.
A spokesperson from the International Organization for Migration confirmed that the group is “still providing support services to refugees who voluntarily opt to come to Cambodia from Nauru”, but said they could not discuss particular cases, citing confidentiality reasons.
Contacted over the weekend, a spokesperson from the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection said in an email that the “arrangement provides refugees with the support they need to integrate into the Cambodian community and build new lives”.
“The governments of Australia and Cambodia remain committed to the arrangement which allows refugees in Nauru to settle in Cambodia,” the spokesperson said, adding the refugees’ privacy should be respected.
Australia’s policy of offshore detention has been labelled “cruel in the extreme” by rights group Amnesty International, while a trove of incident reports, dubbed the “Nauru Files” and published by the Guardian last year, revealed a litany of human rights abuses on the island.