Cambodia has approved the transfer of four refugees from Australia who were previously housed on the Pacific island of Nauru to be resettled here under an agreement signed between the two countries last year.
General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, yesterday said the approval from Prime Minister Hun Sen had been received on Wednesday.
“We just received the approval yesterday from the government. The government agreed for them to formally move to Cambodia. One is from Myanmar and three are from Iran. One of the Iranians is a woman,” he said.
On the exact arrival date of the four refugees, he said: “The process is going forward with the working group and with Australia; when they will exactly come is still undecided.”
The approval of the refugees for resettlement was made under a scheme signed between Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Australia’s former immigration minister Scott Morrison in Phnom Penh on September 26.
Australia agreed to fund the resettlement of an undetermined number of refugees and also provide an additional A$40 million (about US$31 million) in aid to Cambodia.
The group of refugees was flown in secretly from Nauru last week, according to a refugee advocacy group and refugees still on the island.
The deal has come under fire from rights groups and advocates, who warn that the refugees may suffer hardships in Cambodia, a country they say has a poor human rights record and offers little support to its own people, let alone refugees.
In its annual budget, Australia cut aid to most Southeast Asian countries, but spared Cambodia from the cull.
Last year, the Kingdom received A$79 million ($62 million) from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, official data show.
Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, yesterday said that the future of the deal depended on the number of refugees agreeing to resettle in Phnom Penh.
“The next steps of the agreement depend on them [refugees] volunteering to come,” he said. “We want to be very sure about them wanting to come here before we approve more [transfers].”
The refugees are thought to have accepted thousands of dollars in cash payments on the condition that they join the first group of arrivals under the deal. Previously, visits by delegations from Cambodia and Australia had failed to drum up interest in the resettlement scheme.