The Australian government yesterday defended its handling of its controversial A$55 million (currently US$41.6 million) refugee deal with Cambodia after a Rohingya Muslim refugee who was transferred from Nauru under the agreement told Australian media that he is plagued by illness and fears he may die in the Kingdom.
Mohammed Rashid, 26, who reportedly suffers long-term kidney and lung problems, told Fairfax Media that he was admitted to hospital last week for a recommended 10 days but had been withdrawn by an International Organisation for Migration (IOM) official after only three, according to the media report.
“I fear that I will die here,” he was quoted as saying. “All sorts of things are going around in my head like I am a crazy person . . . I don’t feel safe.”
“It was a big mistake to come here.”
The news comes on the heels of last week’s blow to Australia’s scheme to outsource the resettlement of refugees who arrive by boat, when two Iranian refugees returned to their home country after living in Phnom Penh for less than nine months.
Rashid also said the Australian government had failed to fulfil a number of promises that were made to him in a bid to entice him to leave Nauru, where people seeking asylum in Australia are indefinitely detained.
He received $4,000 out of a promised $8,000, but had been scammed out of almost $2,000 when he paid for a motorbike he never received.
A spokesperson for Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton defended the way Rashid had been treated in Cambodia.
In a statement, the spokesperson said Rashid “continues to receive a very high level of support” from IOM, including face-to-face meetings each weekday.
“He has been offered additional services, including counselling, which he has declined to access,” the statement read.
The statement confirmed Rashid is currently receiving medical treatment and is eligible for health insurance for five years.
When pressed on why Australia sent a man with chronic health conditions to a nation with a dire lack of medical specialists, the spokesperson declined to comment.
The spokesperson also did not respond to questions about whether the immigration department would continue to encourage refugees on Nauru to resettle in Cambodia.
IOM spokesperson Joe Lowry declined to comment on Rashid’s individual case.
“We’re available to provide resettlement services, and we’re involved because we work in the best interests of the migrants,” Lowry said.
Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition based in Australia, said that the refugees’ long-term health would have been “the last thing Australia considered”.
“The [Australian] government was only interested in a political fix; they were never actually concerned with the health and welfare of the individuals,” Rintoul said.
“They are eking out an existence on the margins . . . The promises weren’t lived up to.”
“The stark reality is that [Cambodia and Nauru] are third world countries that have trouble maintaining their own population’s standard of living without Australia . . . asking them to surrender their commitment to human rights in return for money.”