Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Refugee idea raises red flags

Refugee idea raises red flags

An asylum seeker at Australia’s regional processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea
An asylum seeker at Australia’s regional processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. AFP

Refugee idea raises red flags

Rights groups raised a slew of concerns yesterday in response to an announcement on Tuesday that Cambodia has “agreed in principle” to take on refugees seeking asylum in Australia.

Ouch Borith, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Tuesday that Cambodia was still “studying” Australia’s proposal, following a meeting between Foreign Minister Nor Namhong and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansirei.

But rights groups that work with refugees and asylum seekers currently in the Kingdom pointed to numerous red flags, including the haphazard application process that bars most refugees from obtaining identity cards or full legal status in Cambodia.

“A refugee certificate isn’t even enough to open a bank account or buy a motorbike in some stores, even though some refugees have been living in the country for eight years,” Sister Denise Coghlan, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), said.

Asylum seekers are not legally allowed to work while their case is being processed, and even recognised refugees often lack documents that enable them to seek legal employment. Citizenship can only be considered if the applicant holds a residence card and has lived continuously in the Kingdom for seven years.

But for Cambodia, there may be other concerns. More than 1,000 refugees could be resettled in the Kingdom, with the Australian government willing to “pay almost anything”, Australia’s ABC reported yesterday.

“But for the government, it’s the money that’s the big difference – Canberra is allegedly offering big money for Phnom Penh to take Australia’s refugees, but no one is standing up to offer similar help for Cambodia’s stateless ethnic Vietnamese,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division.

Cambodia has repeatedly said there is no financial motive attached to the deal.

Vivian Tan, spokeswoman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which ran Cambodia’s asylum program until 2010, said the organisation had not been invited to take part in the current, bilateral refugee discussions.

“In principle, we would be concerned by any practice that goes against the spirit of resettlement by relocating refugees to another country where they may not be able to enjoy their rights, or that may allow a convention state to divest itself of its responsibility under the refugee convention,” Tan said.

Last month, Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed that Australia had asked Cambodia to participate in the regional resettlement of refugees.

MOST VIEWED

  • US think tank warns of China's 'ulterior motives'

    A US think tank on Tuesday warned that spreading Chinese investment in the Indo-Pacific follows a pattern of leveraging geopolitical influence at the expense of the nations receiving investment, including Cambodia. The report looks at a sample of 15 Chinese port development projects, noting that the

  • More than three tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia seized in Mozambique

    A total of 3.5 tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia was seized by authorities in Mozambique late last week, according to the NGO Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES' information was based on a report from the

  • Defence Ministry denies weapons in smuggling case came from Cambodia

    After a Thai national was arrested last week for allegedly smuggling guns from Cambodia to Thailand, Cambodia's Defence Ministry has claimed the weapons seized during the arrest are not used in Cambodia, despite the fact that both types of rifle seized are commonly found in

  • Shipwreck found off coast of Koh Kong

    Royal Cambodian Navy researchers are working to identify a decades-old shipwreck found earlier this month off the coast of Koh Kong province. Divers found the 70-metre-long wreck on April 4 about a mile from Koh Chhlam island, according to Navy officials. Deputy Navy Commander Tea Sokha,