Cambodians protest Australia refugee deal

Students, unions and non-government organisations in Cambodia are mounting a campaign to oppose the federal government’s refugee deal with Australia.

By Greg Dyett | 17 Oct 2014 – 6:28 PM | UPDATED 17 Oct 2014 – 6:35 PM

More than 1,000 Cambodians including monks, students, victims of land eviction and representatives of unions and non-government organisations have marched in Phnom Penh’s streets to demand the abolition of the refugee resettlement deal signed by Cambodian and Australian governments to permanently resettle refugees from Nauru in Cambodia.

Protesters have delivered their petitions to Cabinet, National Assembly, Australian embassy, American embassy, UN and EU.

They were seeking local and international intervention in cancelling this agreement which they said was not beneficial to either the Cambodian people or the refugees.

Protest organiser Mao Pises told SBS the arrangement would not leave refugees any better off.

“We do not discriminate any refugees coming to live in Cambodia, but I’m afraid that they will not be able to live in a dignity because Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world; the situation can be worst than their homeland country.

“The Cambodian government doesn’t take enough care of its own people, how can they take a good care of those refugees?”

Under the deal, four or five refugees currently on Nauru would be able to settle in Cambodia with a view to more being able to settle there in the next few years.

The United Nations refugee agency had described the deal as a worrying departure from international norms.

Equitable Cambodia is a non-government organisation in the capital Phnom Penh.

Executive Director Vuthy Eang said the refugee deal was a bad idea.

“Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world and corruption, human rights violations is widespread in this country and our own people are suffering at the moment with land grabbings, violence, displacements, healthcare system is all inadequate and if we bring these people it means that these people will be further victimised,” he told SBS.

Mr Eang wanted both countries to re-think the deal.

“We call upon the Australian Government to uphold its international obligation and respects the rights of refugees. We also call upon the two countries to reconsider this deal and ensure that adequate support and protection are provided to these refugees.”

Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison had pointed to the benefits to Cambodia, including $40 million dollars over four years to support various overseas development aid projects.

But Mr Eang wasn’t satisfied with this assurance, pointing to the widespread corruption in Cambodia.

“At first you have to prove that you can stop the corruption, you can make the systems better, we don’t see the system is better at the moment,” he said. “This is money, we’re very concerned that it will not be used properly and the refugees will be, their rights will be violated,” he said.