(Transcript from World News Radio)
Will Cambodia become the next country to accept refugees from Australia’s immigration detention system?
Kristina Kukolja has more.
“Resettlement isn’t a ticket to a better quality life in a first world country, it’s about getting you to a country where you’re safe, where you’re free from persecution. We are looking to broaden the number of available places where people can receive permanent resettlement within the region. So, I don’t buy into this argument which says that only first world countries are able to participate in resettlement around the world. It’s about freedom from persecution, not a ticket to a first world economy.”
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Sky News, amid speculation Cambodia will become the next country, after Papua New Guinea, to sign a refugee resettlement agreement with Australia.
The question was revived last week by news asylum matters were on the agenda during a meeting between Mr Morrison and Cambodia’s interior minister in Phnom Penh.
A visit by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to Cambodia in February then revealed the nation would seriously consider an Australian request to resettle refugees.
The federal government hasn’t confirmed the deal, but says it would welcome the help of nations in the region with asylum seekers, and any assistance would be voluntary.
Opposition Immigration spokesman Richard Marles says the Abbott government must come clean over any arrangements with Cambodia.
“We don’t have any information from the government itself about what it’s doing in Cambodia. We have the Immigration Minister and Foreign Minister turn up in Phnom Penh and we discover this from sources inside Cambodia rather than the Australian government itself. It is bizarre behaviour. The Australian government just needs to be upfront with the Australian people about what they are doing.”
The Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young says Australia is yet again trying to evade its international responsibilities.
“It feels as though we’re setting up a series of gulags across the region rather than Australia, the wealthiest country in our region, leading by example and [doing] our fair share.”
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs website, Cambodia is one of the world’s least developed countries.
The impoverished nation of close to 15 million people is also a recipient of Australian aid money, and is marred by political turmoil.
A special United Nations-backed court is yet to conclude the trials of senior leaders from the Khmer Rouge era, during which, it’s estimated, more than 2 million Cambodians lost their lives.
The Australian government has, in the past, expressed concern about human rights in Cambodia, saying the process of rebuilding continues.
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre spokeswoman Pamela Curr says it’s not the place to send refugees.
“Our concern with Cambodia is that it is a country that has still not emerged from a history of terrible persecution of people. There has been a genocide in Cambodia. How are they going to absorb another group of refugees into their midst? It is a struggling economy, a struggling nation trying to achieve human rights. There is little possibility that the people who are settled there will enjoy any form of security from persecution or any form of economic security.”
The President of the Cambodian Association of Victoria, Youhorn Chea, says he’s not opposed to Australia sending refugees to poorer nations.
Mr Chea himself came to Australia as a refugee in 1982.
But he says Cambodia is facing a land shortage, and he’s concerned about the rights of refugees sent there.
“If Australia wants to send people to poor countries it should be fine, no problem. The main thing is to send refugees to countries who has democracy, who has human rights because as a refugee we escaped from one country which did not have any democracy, did not have any freedom, did not have any human rights. [People] are not free to [participate in] politics, it’s not free against any religion, so if you send them to Cambodia you are sending them to die.”