Prime Minister Hun Sen and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop met at the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Summit in Milan on Friday, doubling down on their support for the refugee deal signed in Cambodia last month, despite heavy criticism from human rights groups.
Bishop expressed “profound thanks” to Hun Sen for strengthening bilateral cooperation between the two countries, said foreign affairs attaché to the prime minister Kao Kim Hourn at a press briefing at the Phnom Penh International Airport.
Hun Sen told Bishop the deal was part of Cambodia’s international obligation as a signatory to the United Nations’ refugee convention and related protocols, stressing that all refugees sent to Cambodia must be volunteers, said Kim Hourn, adding that there was no exact date set for the arrival of the refugees.
However, last month, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Long Visalo told reporters that a small group will likely arrive in Phnom Penh by the end of this year or early next year.
Sok Phal, director of the Interior Ministry’s department of immigration, said yesterday that a date for refugees to travel to Cambodia has yet to be established.
“We are waiting for Australia to respond to us,” Phal said.
Cambodian officials are set to depart for the Republic of Nauru to find refugees who are willing to come to the Kingdom for the officially voluntary scheme, although many on the remote Pacific island have said they would not take the step.
Earlier this month, some refugees sewed their mouths shut in an act of protest over the deal.
On Saturday, hundreds of demonstrators streamed through Phnom Penh calling for the agreement to be cancelled.
They delivered petitions to various governmental institutions such as the National Assembly and protested in front of the Australian Embassy.
Hun Sen also met with Thailand’s Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha during the summit, discussing his upcoming visit to the Cambodia on October 30.