Australian refugee deal details shrouded in ‘information vacuum’: human rights groups

Australian refugee deal details shrouded in ‘information vacuum’: human rights groups

A coalition of local human rights groups has accused the Cambodian and Australian governments of setting up “the perfect information vacuum” surrounding a plan to resettle refugees processed at Australian detention centres on Nauru in Cambodia.

In a statement released yesterday, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), which represents 21 groups, questioned whether the Australian government would be “complicit” in funding property development projects that could see forced evictions take place or bribes exchange hands.

CHRAC cites a report published in yesterday’s Post in which sources revealed that high-level Australian bureaucrats had recently toured several sites in Cambodia that could be used for resettlement, including land in Preah Sihanouk province and Phnom Penh.

Opposition party whip Son Chhay also told the paper that he had heard that refugees might be placed on the islands off the coast of Sihanoukville.

“Given the statement as reported today by Son Chhay, will these refugees simply be moved out of one offshore detention facility in Nauru into another offshore detention facility in Cambodia?” the statement asks.

“The allegation that the two governments are engaged in searching for suitable sites either on an island off the Cambodian coast or on the mainland certainly brings up images of [a] detention like facility that is being constructed on these ‘sites’.”

The government has repeatedly stated it will only take refugees who voluntarily agree to resettle in Cambodia.

Details of the bilateral arrangement have been kept under wraps by both governments since Australia’s request was announced in February.

Last week, a senior Australian official arrived at the embassy in Phnom Penh and has reportedly been directed by Canberra to take charge on the ground.

The Post understands that a meeting to discuss the Memorandum of Understanding will take place on Monday.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment on the arguments of the report while representatives of the Australian embassy did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

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