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A Phnom Penh view on Australia sending refugees to Cambodia

February 24th, 2014

No wonder Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is keeping publicly silent on her suggestion to Cambodia when visiting at the weekend that it help out by taking some of our surplus refugees. Despite what the Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said at a press briefing on Saturday – that it was a proposal that the government was taking “very seriously” – politicians in his country are opposed to the idea.

The Phnom Penh Post reports today that the  Cambodian government clarified yesterday that it is not keen on taking in refugees fleeing political persecution who might seek to use the Kingdom as a “springboard” for political activities, raising questions about what protection Cambodia would actually offer to those that Australia wishes to send.

“[Australia] wants to hand over its moral responsibility to Cambodia, I don’t think that’s acceptable,” Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua said yesterday.

“Australia has to settle its own moral responsibility as a nation that we consider a democracy that respects human rights, [and] as a nation that is well developed and has in the past been very generous with refugees [including from Cambodia].” …

Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said that Cambodia wished to help Australia “as a friend of humanity” but would, however, require assistance from the international community to help successfully resettle refugees.

“We don’t want the world to see Cambodia as a springboard for political refugees. We support and try to preserve our neutrality,” he said.

But Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said this position was one reason why Cambodia had a “horrible” refugee rights record.

“We don’t have the financial capacity but we also don’t have the political will [for] refugees who need protection, especially when most refugees are of a political nature,” he said.

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