Tony Abbott declines to rule out refugee resettlement deal with Cambodia | Cruise Mekong River

Tony Abbott declines to rule out refugee resettlement deal with Cambodia

Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott: ‘We look forward to further support from other countries in our region, including Cambodia.’ Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAPIMAGE

Tony Abbott has declined to rule out a refugee resettlement deal with Cambodia as the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, visited the country for discussions on regional solutions to people smuggling.

Morrison is the second government minister to visit Cambodia since February, after foreign minister Julie Bishop also visited to discuss regional co-operation on asylum seekers. During this visit Bishop refused to give details of the talks, but the Cambodian foreign minister, Hor Namhong, disclosed to reporters he was “very seriously” considering an offer to resettle refugees who had sought asylum in Australia.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Abbott said that any support regional partners could offer to combat people smuggling would be “very welcome”.

When asked if it would be appropriate for refugees to be settled in Cambodia, Abbott replied: “We’re very pleased to have been getting the support from PNG and Nauru that we’ve had and we look forward to further support from other countries in our region, including Cambodia.”

A spokesman for Morrison has confirmed he met with the Cambodian interior minister, Sar Kheng, on Thursday to discuss “regional co-operation to deal with asylum seeker movement”.

The trip comes as the first monthly ministerial summit between Australia and Papua New Guinea on asylum seekers detained on Manus Island resulted in an announcement that all refugees on Manus would be resettled in PNG.

The potential move to resettle refugees to Cambodia, where over 20% of the population live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank, has been blasted by the Greens who describe it as “irresponsible and absurd”.

“The government knows Manus Island is untenable and is now scouring the region for the next poor neighbour to dump refugees on,” said Greens immigration spokeswoman, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

“Instead of prowling around South-East Asia, setting up one gulag after another, the Abbott government should be giving refugees the protection they need.

Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch, also drew attention to what she described as Cambodia’s “atrocious human rights record”.

“Cambodia is an especially poor choice to resettle refugees, because it has bowed to pressure before in forcibly returning vulnerable asylum seekers such as Uighurs to China and monks and activists to Vietnam,” Pearson said.

She added there were also serious questions over the level of conditions any refugees or asylum seekers would be held in if a resettlement deal was struck.

In January the Washington Post reported that in 2002 the CIA decided against transferring a terror suspect to detention in Cambodia as the site was riddled with snakes.

“Conditions in Cambodian detention facilities were so bad that even the CIA declined to put al-Qaida detainees there, even after Hun Sen offered to let them,” Pearson said.

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Cambodia | The Guardian

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