Human rights groups describe Cambodia asylum seeker deal as shameful

Human rights groups have described a deal to send asylum seekers from Australia’s offshore detention centres to Cambodia as shameful.

Human rights groups have described a deal to send asylum seekers from Australia’s offshore detention centres to Cambodia as shameful.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison will travel to Phnom Penh to sign the deal tomorrow.

The minister is not releasing details of the deal, but Cambodia’s government has confirmed it will be signing a memorandum of understanding with Mr Morrison.

The president of Cambodia’s Centre for Human Rights, Virak Ou, told Radio National Breakfast the country was poor and had a terrible record for protecting refugees.

“It is shameful but it is also illegal. The Australian Government has an obligation to protect refugees and sending them Cambodia’s way is not how a responsible country protects refugees,” he said.

“Cambodia is in no position to take refugees. We are a poor country, the health system is sub-par at most. I don’t know how the refugees will send their kids to school.

“The Cambodian school system is rife with corruption … the access to education here is quite bad. So I don’t know what the Australian Government is thinking nor what they expect from this deal.”

Human Rights Watch said the agreement did not meet Australia’s commitment to send refugees to a safe third country.

The deal has been months in the making and few details have been made public, including how much Australia will pay Cambodia, one of the poorest nations in South East Asia.

Refugee advocate David Mann told ABC NewsRadio the deal was largely shrouded in secrecy and was a matter of profound concern.

He labelled the plan a “dangerous refugee diversion deal with Cambodia” saying “Australia risks violating people’s rights and endangering lives”.

The ABC understands Cambodia will only resettle genuine refugees from Nauru and the Government’s preference has been that they live in the community.

It is understood the deal could involve up to 1,000 refugees.

However, Mr Morrison said today there would not be a cap on the number of refugees resettled in Cambodia.

“They will be afforded all the same rights under Cambodian law and those that exist under the refugee convention, and there is no cap on what has been discussed here.

“This will be an ongoing, developing relationship,” he said.

The negotiations have also attracted criticism from the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which said it had not been involved in the deal.

UNHCR spokeswoman Vivian Tan said it was a “time of unprecedented displacement around the world”.

“We’re concerned that such bilateral agreements would actually involve the divesting of certain obligations under the refugee convention.”

The Federal Opposition is demanding the Government outline how the deal is different from the one Labor had arranged with Malaysia.

When in government, Labor struck a deal to resettle refugees in Malaysia, but the Coalition blocked it.

Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong said it was not yet clear how a deal with Cambodia would differ from the one with Malaysia.

“All we have here is the reports in the media and the indication the minister will announce,” she said.

“But if he can’t demonstrate that this is somehow different from Malaysia… we will all see … that base politics was at the heart of the Coalition’s position on Malaysia,” she said.

Cambodia’s healthcare system ‘like hell’, says refugee

The Cambodian Association of Victoria president, Youhorn Chea, who fled Cambodia in 1982, said anyone sent there would be isolated and ignored.

He said while Cambodia had come a long way, authorities there were still guilty of human rights abuses.

“If you do something against the government, you have a problem,” he said.

“[Authorities] lie to the court and put you in prison. No freedom.”

He said the country’s healthcare system was like “hell”.

“When you got money, they have a look and they do some treatment to you, but if no money, they let you die,” he said.

Mr Chea said it was unlikely Cambodia would be able to cope with extra refugees as unemployment was already high.

“A hundred thousand people go to work in Thailand and a lot of people go to work in Korea and Malaysia as well and when they got the money, they just send back home to their parent or to their wife or husband who live in Cambodia and to the children,” he said.