Since the government took over refugee processing from the UN in 2009, not a single refugee has received a residence card, cutting off access to many basic services that require a certain level of documentation, Human Rights Watch said yesterday.
The group said their findings mean the Australian government must pressure Cambodia to implement reforms before any refugees arrive from Nauru under a resettlement arrangement inked in September.
Under Cambodian law, the government is required to issue residency cards to refugees, but “not a single refugee has ever received a Cambodian residence card, let alone citizenship,” HRW’s Australia director Elaine Pearson said.
Instead of residence cards – which are required to acquire citizenship via naturalisation under the Nationality Law – refugees have only been issued a prakas declaring their refugee status.
But they have not received international travel documents either, HRW said.
One refugee told the group that the prakases were “absolutely useless”.
“To get a job, a driver’s licence, open a bank account, buy a motorbike, or even receive a wire transfer, you need to show a passport, not this piece of paper.”
Cambodia’s agreement with Australia specifies refugees will receive residence cards, ID cards and travel documents, but HRW said “this seems unlikely” given the current situation.
Suong Sok, a senior official at the refugee office, said that HRW was “wrong” and that the prakas provided adequate documentation to refugees.
“It’s legal refugee status. That one is enough,” he said.