Would not elaborate on what rights refugees would have in Cambodia: Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Alex EllinghausenRefugees who are resettled in Cambodia by the Australian government will be unlikely to gain employment rights, get an education or be given permanent residency, according to a peak international development body.
The Australian Council for International Development said Australia had entered “uncharted territory” by resettling refugees in a developing country, renowned for its questionable human rights record and political instability. It also said it was improbable refugees would be given fundamental rights.
“Cambodia does not have any capacity to provide resettlement for refugees such as employment, access to land. They can’t even provide land titles to their own people, let alone refugees,” said Marc Purcell, the group’s executive director.
A report on human rights in Cambodia published by the US government said Cambodia’s national asylum system had limited capacity, which had resulted in lengthy delays for some asylum seekers.
“According to an NGO, individuals without proof of nationality often did not have access to formal employment, education, marriage registration, the courts, or the right to own land,” the report said.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison would not elaborate on what rights refugees would have in Cambodia.
“The government is continuing its discussions on these issues and welcomes the receptive and positive response from Cambodia that has been provided to date,” a spokeswoman for Mr Morrison said.
Mr Morrison has continually stated any resettlement deal was not a ticket to a “first-class economy”.
“It’s not about whether they are poor, it’s about whether they can be safe,” Mr Morrison said last week. “That’s the issue. The [refugee] convention was not designed as an economic advancement program.”
It is likely the 1177 asylum seekers who are found to be refugees in the Nauru detention centre will be relocated to Cambodia.
The Greens have attacked the potential resettlement deal, questioning whether money to fund it will be plundered from the federal government’s $4 billion overseas aid budget.
“What agreements have they entered into with Prime Minister Hun Sen in order to be able to dump Australia’s responsibility on one of the poorest countries in the world?” Greens senator Christine Milne asked.
Mr Purcell said if the agreement was to be paid for by Australia’s overseas budget, it would be an “extremely poor use of taxpayers’ money”.
“It skews limited resources away from the people who need it most,” he said. “It’s not based on need and merit. It’s based on a political fix.”
Labor’s spokesman on immigration Richard Marles said it was “concerning” the Coalition government found it so difficult to be upfront with the Australian people.
“If the Australian government are legitimately pursuing an arrangement with Cambodia, then the very least they can do is be upfront with the community about the proposal,” Mr Marles said.
Over 9 million people have no access to adequate sanitation in Cambodia, and over 10,000 Cambodian children die each year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation, according to Water Aid Australia.
Cambodia is rated 138 out of 186 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index, which rates countries on their access to development and standard of living.
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