Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says multimillion dollar deal on track after reports of Cambodia government backing out.
One of four refugees resettled in Cambodia under a multimillion-dollar deal that saw them sent from an Australian-run prison on the Pacific island nation of Nauru has reportedly decided he wants to go home.
Cambodian interior ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said on Sunday that the man, an ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar, had contacted Myanmar’s embassy in Cambodia to get permission to return home, the AP news agency reported.
Sopheak said that the Rohingya man, who was born in 1990, did not explain why he wanted to return to Myanmar, but that his father had visited him recently in Cambodia and may have sought to reunite his son with their family.
He said he was unaware of the embassy’s response but that the Cambodian government respected the man’s decision.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Two Iranian men, an Iranian woman and the Rohingya man arrived in Cambodia under a $55m Australian dollar ($38m) four-year agreement aimed at resettling hundreds of asylum seekers who have been living for years in Nauru.
Rohingyas are members of the mostly stateless Muslim minority from Myanmar.
They were the only four of 677 refugees who signed up for the deal, and arrived in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh in early June. Only asylum seekers granted refugee status by the UN’s refugee agency were eligible for the move.
Ian Rintoul, Sydney-based director of the Australian advocacy group Refugee Action Coalition, told the AP that none of the four resettled people wanted to stay in Cambodia. He said they expected to get a lump sum of at least $10,000, but that was not what happened.
“They all went with the idea that they would get the money that they were being told they would get and be able to go somewhere else,” Rintoul said.
“The government has dribbled the money to them. They’ve been kept in a very isolated arrangement and there’s been no prospects for them.”
Rights groups have condemned Australia for trying to resettle refugees in poorer countries like Cambodia, which is frequently in the spotlight for human rights abuses and with an economy less than one percent the size of Australia’s.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Cambodia could use the skills of foreign workers and help boost the poor country’s GDP.
A week ago her government was forced to deny suggestions that Phnom Penh was backing out of the multimillion-dollar deal after Sopheak told news outlets that Cambodia “had no plans to receive more refugees from Nauru”.
A spokesman for Australia’s opposition, Richard Marles, described the Cambodia deal as “an expensive joke”.