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More Nauru refugees headed for Cambodia

Refugees arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport last year.
Refugees arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport last year. Pha Lina

More Nauru refugees headed for Cambodia

Three more refugees held by the Australian government on Nauru have volunteered to come to Cambodia, a senior government official said yesterday.

Interior Ministry immigration chief Sok Phal said a recent government delegation to the Pacific island had interviewed three men who had agreed to move to the Kingdom under the controversial resettlement program. “We have made a report to the ministry [which will] decide” whether to accept the group, Phal said.

Phal said he could not recall the group’s nationalities, though a well-placed source suggested the new batch included a Pakistani, an Afghan and a Sri Lankan.

Under the deal, inked in 2014, Cambodia agreed to take Australia’s unwanted refugees held on Nauru in exchange for an A$40 million aid program. Canberra also stumped up A$15 million for resettlement services.

News of new arrivals comes less than a month after the widely criticised scheme marked its second anniversary, during which time only five people have chosen resettlement in the Kingdom.

Of those, only one – a Rohingya Muslim from Myanmar – remains in Cambodia, with the other four, including a man from Myanmar and three Iranians, since choosing to return to their native countries.

According to official statistics, 410 people are currently detained on Nauru, one of two “regional processing centres” where the Australian government keeps people who attempt to reach its shores by boat.

But despite the meager results, the Australian government has said it remains committed to the resettlement scheme.

Reached yesterday, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he was unable to offer any information about the potential arrivals, as he had not received the official report.

He noted, however, that the recent delegation to Nauru included head of the immigration department’s refugee office Tan Sokvichea and Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Long Visalo.

A source close to Visalo said the secretary of state had also been invited to visit Australia soon to discuss the scheme.

Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition said he was surprised that three more refugees had volunteered, though suggested the trio may want to use Cambodia as a “stepping stone” to return home. “The vast majority have rejected Cambodia as an alternative,” he said.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection media team was unable to reply before deadline.

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