Three Nauru refugees volunteer to be resettled in Cambodia

Two Sri Lankan men and a Syrian man were offered $15,000 to make the move, says refugee activist

Three refugees held in detention on Nauru have volunteered to be resettled in Cambodia and could arrive as early as next week, as part of the Coalition’s $55m deal with the country.

General Sok Phal, the director of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, told Guardian Australia on Saturday a delegation had just returned from Nauru, and that the transfer paperwork was likely to be approved by the Interior Ministry on Monday.

“If they approve, we will talk to the Australian embassy and we think [they will arrive] next week … we hope so,” he said.

Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition said the volunteers were two Sri Lankan men and a man from Syria and that they would be leaving Nauru this week. He said the three had been offered $15,000 to make the move to Cambodia.

The rest of the Syrian man’s family live in a Jordanian refugee camp, and his transfer arrangement includes the chance of being reunited with his family in Cambodia. Rintoul said those family members were also set to be paid “thousands”.

“There’s a massive amount of money to coerce people to go from Nauru to Cambodia, but people don’t see it as a reliable solution,” he said. “They’ve also now been offered loans if they do resettle. But the reality is they have three out of nearly 1,000 people, and for the vast majority, there is no real interest.”

The deal was signed in September 2014 by then immigration minister Scott Morrison and Cambodian interior minister Sar Kheng, who refused to acknowledge questions about the $40m cost of the resettlement deal.

An additional $15.5m was tacked on to facilitate the movement of the original four – three Iranians and a Rohingya man – who made the journey to Phnom Penh in June 2015. They were later joined by another Rohingya refugee. Sequestered in a secluded villa, a team from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was assigned to help the new arrivals learn Khmer, familiarise themselves with their new surroundings and look for work. But the original four all ultimately returned to the countries from where they had once fled, and the lone Rohingya who remains has since spoken of his misery here.

The so-called Cambodia Solution has been criticised by Labor, human rights groups, and international law experts as a costly failure.

In August, the Phnom Penh Post reported that Connect Settlement Services was also brought on board to facilitate the resettlement of refugees from Nauru to Cambodia. That same month, Guardian Australia published the Nauru Files, a trove of leaked documents that laid bare the abuses being suffered by detainees on Nauru.

Rintoul said on Saturday: “Everyone says the same thing; they just get worn down.

“There’s no outcome and no durable solution on Nauru. The mental strain just builds up. We’re still waiting for the Australian government to recognise that there are no third countries that are going to provide durable protection from the people of Nauru.”

Earlier this week, IOM and Connect referred questions to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. On Friday, the department told Guardian Australia it would “not comment on individuals’ circumstances”, and that “the department continues to work with the Cambodian government to ensure the successful implementation of the settlement arrangement”.


Lauren Crothers in Phnom Penh

The GuardianTramp

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