Almost three months after four refugees arrived in Cambodia from Nauru as part of a controversial resettlement deal with Australia, the Interior Ministry said on Friday that it had no plans to receive more refugees being held in the South Pacific island nation.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the four refugees who arrived on June 4 were “enjoying their life” in Cambodia, but that he did not expect more to follow their lead.
“We don’t have any plans to import more refugees from Nauru to Cambodia,” he said. “I think the less we receive the better.”
In the deal signed in September by Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Scott Morrison, then Australia’s immigration minister, Cambodia agreed to receive an unspecified number of refugees from Nauru, where they are being held by the Australian government, which refuses asylum to those who reach its shores by boat.
The deal specifies that Cambodia will only take refugees who volunteer to be resettled in the country, and that Australia will pay for the cost of their resettlement and integration. Australia also pledged a AU$40 million (about $28.5 million) aid package as part of the deal.
Ian Rintoul, a spokesman for the Sydney-based Refugee Action Coalition, which monitors the refugees on Nauru, said efforts by Australia to get more refugees to volunteer for resettlement in Cambodia had ceased.
“They made a big effort in the first few weeks after [the four] were sent. They put up a shipping container with a sign on it that said ‘Cambodia Information Hub.’ They started cold-calling and using interviews to try to convince people,” he said. “But they got nobody.”
Mr. Rintoul said that he had received reports that refugees already in Australia were being pressured to come to Cambodia, but that Australia and Cambodia had seemingly given up on convincing the hundreds of refugees still on Nauru.
“Certainly the effort on Nauru itself has stopped,” he said. “There has been no Cambodian government presence on Nauru since the four [refugees] left.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the government was still “waiting” for volunteers.
“As a principal, we just import a few that arrived already, and so far we don’t have any more volunteers to come,” he said. “We are waiting for volunteers from there and we will do a check if they can be refugees here.”
Both Mr. Siphan and General Sopheak said they did not know how much money Cambodia has received so far as part of the refugee deal.
The Australian Embassy did not respond to a request for comment.
The deal to send refugees to Cambodia was controversial from the start, with human rights groups and opposition politicians in both countries complaining that Cambodia’s inability to protect the human rights of its own citizens made it a poor resettlement site for refugees from elsewhere.
Australia, however, has insisted that Cambodia is prepared to care for refugees and promised to provide whatever funds are necessary to help them integrate into life in one of the region’s poorest and most corrupt countries.
Joe Lowry, the regional spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, which has helped to resettle the four refugees who arrived in June, said the group was “fine.”
“They’re fine and as usual they have asked for privacy so we are respecting that,” he said, adding that they were still living in a villa in Phnom Penh that was initially labeled temporary housing.
“When they are ready to leave [the villa] they can,” he said. “I don’t think any of them have expressed any desire to go.”
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