Australia's refugee resettlement deal with Cambodia has come under renewed fire following the reported return to Myanmar this month of one of the first four men transferred from Nauru in June.
According to Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, the Rohingya man was scheduled to fly back on October 11 after requesting to depart last month due to “homesickness”, but the Myanmar Embassy in Phnom Penh was not available yesterday to confirm his departure.
With the Australian government having expended some A$15 million (US$10.8 million) in resettlement costs and an additional A$40 million in bilateral development aid, the deal has been condemned by opposition lawmakers there as a failure and waste of resources. Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young on Friday disparaged the Rohingya’s repatriation as a “very expensive plane ticket”, accusing Canberra of “playing with the lives of refugees”.
Human Rights Watch further condemned the agreement on Monday, with the deputy director of its Asia Division Phil Robertson telling New Zealand radio that “paying poorer countries to take on Australia’s refugee burden is both shameful and outrageous”.
Despite a modest uptake, the deal was ratified last month in a Phnom Penh meeting between Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Hun Sen. Sopheak yesterday confirmed that another two Rohingyas are due to relocate from Nauru.
Responding to questions about the limited return on Australia’s resettlement investment, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said the costs were in line with numbers.
“Australia funds the International Organization for Migration to deliver settlement services . . . including accommodation, employment links, education, Khmer and English language classes and health support,” a spokesperson said. “Services are delivered on a needs basis and vary for each individual refugee.”
Doubts were cast on Australia’s parallel aid boost to Cambodia earlier this year by opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Sam Rainsy, who suggested that the additional funds would be channelled to corrupt leaders. However, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) insisted that it was committed to full transparency and accountability.
“The Australian government does not channel any of its development assistance through the Cambodian government,” said a DFAT spokesperson. “We deliver our aid through partnerships with organisations like the United Nations . . . and through managing contractors. We require these partners to have comprehensive and effective fraud control plans.”
DFAT declined to comment on whether it would revise aid to Cambodia in light of the ailing resettlement program.