Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Oz minister defends plan

Oz minister defends plan

Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton talks to the Post during an interview at Phnom Penh International Airport
Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton talks to the Post during an interview at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday before departing for Australia. KIM MCCOSKER

Oz minister defends plan

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has heaped praise on the Cambodian government, which last month deported dozens of Montagnard asylum seekers back to Vietnam, as a “very responsible” partner in refugee resettlement.

In an interview yesterday, he said the controversial bilateral deal’s numerous critics will soon be proved wrong when up to five refugee families are initially settled in the Kingdom.

Cambodian officials are to travel to Nauru in the coming weeks to meet the approximately 400 refugees eligible for resettlement here in a bid to find three to five families willing to make the move.

No refugees processed in Australian-run detention centres on the South Pacific island have yet officially volunteered for the resettlement scheme, but Dutton said he had no doubt that sufficient numbers would agree to be part of the trial group and that many others would follow.

The deal – which was inked last September and will see Australia give Cambodia $35 million in extra aid over four years – has been lambasted by rights groups and opposition parties in both countries.

But the Australian minister, speaking to the Post before he departed for home after a 24-hour visit to Phnom Penh, claimed critics will be left embarrassed when the initial group is successfully resettled in Cambodia with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

“I think the criticisms have been lacking substance, and I think they haven’t been based on fact, and I think some of the critics will be embarrassed when they understand the depth of the arrangement and the depth of support that will be provided,” he said.

Dutton, who was appointed in December, declined to comment on the deportation of 45 Montagnard asylum seekers back to Vietnam by Cambodian authorities over the past month without subjecting them to the status determination processes legally required.

He said he did not have “the full facts” in relation to the matter and thus it would not be appropriate for him to comment.

But he applauded the government’s “responsible approach” to Australia’s proposal.

“I think critics will always find a point to criticise, but my experience has been a very positive one and that’s only been reinforced by the meetings today,” he said, referring to back-to-back meetings with Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Immigration Department chief Sok Phal and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

“I think the Cambodian government understands their responsibilities, I think that they are meeting their responsibilities, and I think they have the capacity to work well with the Nauruans to provide a new life [for the refugees].”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Kuy Koung told reporters following Dutton’s meeting with Namhong that the Cambodian minister had made it clear that the refugees that come here will have the right to be resettled in a third country if they so desire.

But Dutton said yesterday that given the initial families will receive housing, education, employment arrangements, language-learning support and a host of other support services, he believed “their commitment to Cambodia would be long-term”.

He said the IOM, which after long deliberations agreed to assist with the scheme last month, had been identifying local partners to work with in resettlement.

“They’ve been able to scope out potential housing arrangements. They’ve been able to enter into some discussion with employment providers and with people in Cambodia that might be willing to partner to make this a success.”

Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Research Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said Australia should not be separating Cambodia’s recent treatment of Montagnard asylum seekers and its patchy track record on refugee rights from the bilateral deal.

“Australia’s silence on the treatment of the Montagnards does speak volumes. Australia is showing that it is willing to stay quiet when human rights violations are happening and stay quiet about the protection of refugees in order to get this deal,” he said.

“What other compromises is Australia prepared to make?”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA

MOST VIEWED

  • Rainsy lands in Malaysia

    Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy arrived in Kuala Lumpur airport on Saturday afternoon after boarding a flight from Paris, where he has been living for more than four years. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Koy Kuong said on Saturday that Cambodia respected

  • Touch: Rainsy will never return

    Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has claimed it has achieved 70 per cent of its struggle to find a solution to the current political situation in the Kingdom. Just before boarding a plane at Charles de Gaulle

  • Sokha continues call for dropping of charge after bail conditions reduced

    Not satisfied with having his bail conditions reduced, allowing him to travel freely in Cambodia, Kem Sokha says he wants his charge totally dropped. “As an innocent man who has been in detention for two years even without being found guilty, I continue to demand

  • MEPs' call for Rainsy's safety not European Parliament position

    The European Parliament said on Friday that a statement by 56 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) calling for guarantees of Sam Rainsy’s freedom and safety should he return to Cambodia did not represent its position. Delphine Colard, the European Parliament’s press officer told

  • Sar Kheng: Rainsy return not blocked

    Minister of Interior Sar Kheng clarified that Cambodia had never blocked Sam Rainsy from returning to the Kingdom. However, he said Cambodia reserved the right to take legal action as allowed by law against activities aimed at destroying the Kingdom. “No one blocked the return

  • Cambodia celebrates 66th Independence Day

    Cambodia on Saturday celebrated Independence Day to mark the end of French colonial rule under the leadership of King Father Norodom Sihanouk in 1953. Thousands of people from all walks of life watched King Norodom Sihamoni light the victory flame at Independence Monument to mark the 66