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Refugees spend first day in Phnom Penh seeing sights

The refugees arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport
The refugees arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport on Thursday. Pha Lina

Refugees spend first day in Phnom Penh seeing sights

The first four refugees to be resettled under a controversial deal to send Australia’s unwanted refugees from the Pacific island of Nauru to Cambodia spent their first day in the country sightseeing, tasting Khmer food and getting their bearings in Phnom Penh.

The group, which arrived from Darwin amid a media storm at Phnom Penh airport on Thursday morning, had a markedly calmer day yesterday, escorted by staff from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on a tour of the city.

“We went to the riverside, around the Independence Monument and around the King’s monument, just the basics, and then we went to some Khmer restaurants and had some Khmer food,” said IOM’s Kristin Dadey, adding that the tour was led by a Khmer “cultural orientation teacher” who discussed Cambodian history with the refugees and explained the currency.

“A lot of it was just sitting down with maps and showing where everything is … some of them said it very much reminded them of home ... they seem to be settling in nicely.”

The four – which include an ethnic Rohingya man from Myanmar, two Iranian men and an Iranian woman – are at the centre of a heavily criticised resettlement deal.

Inked nine months ago between the Australia and Cambodian governments, the agreement includes A$40 million ($31 million) in aid to Cambodia, with Canberra later announcing it would stump-up another A$15.5 million to fund resettlement.

The package includes large cash payments for refugees who accept the move as well as other support. Dadey decline to discuss the group’s financial situation but said they would be offered Khmer language lessons starting on Monday and had yesterday met a medical expert to discuss health insurance.

She added the refugees – who are being provided a villa – had also met an employment counsellor. “We don’t expect them to find a job straight away … over the next month we’ll sit with them and see what their employment skills are and what their desires are.”

Ian Rintoul, from Australia’s Refugee Action Coalition, who is in contact with some of hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru, said reports of the group’s arrival had reached the island, however, “no one is interested”.

He said a shipping container set up as a “Cambodian Information Hub” was “a standing joke”.

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