On 26 September 2014, Australia and Cambodia entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) under which refugees held at detention centres in Nauru will be offered the opportunity to be permanently resettled in Cambodia.
Under the terms of the MOU, only asylum seekers who are determined to be refugees under the Refugees Convention, meet Cambodian entry and resettlement requirements, and voluntarily accept an offer of settlement will be resettled in Cambodia.
The MOU contains operational guidelines, which set out the settlement, reception, accommodation and integration processes that will be implemented as part of the deal. Importantly, paragraph 25 of the guidelines provides that within 12 months of departure for resettlement in Cambodia, Australia may offer to assist refugees with a process of ‘voluntary repatriation’ to their country of origin.
The deal has been criticised as an abrogation of Australia’s obligations under the Refugees Convention and because of the significant hurdles Cambodia faces to provide refugees with protection and support. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated that the agreement is ‘a worrying departure from international norms.… It is crucial that countries do not shift their refugee responsibilities elsewhere.’
Although Cambodia is a signatory to the Refugees Convention, it struggles to provide adequate protection to refugees in the country, with reports (p 5) that asylum seekers have been returned to China and Vietnam. Human rights conditions in Cambodia are generally poor, with widespread corruption and arbitrary detention being major issues.
A joint press statement by representatives of the two countries offers further details about the agreement, including that Australia ‘will bear the direct costs of the arrangement, including initial support to refugees, and relevant capacity building for Cambodia to ensure it has the appropriate resources to receive and integrate the refugees successfully.’ Australia also announced that it will give an additional $40 million in development assistance to Cambodia as part of the deal.
The deal supplements existing agreements into which Australia has already entered with Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
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Last updated 20 October 2014
Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, Factsheet: Cambodia and Refugee Protection (2014)
Human Rights Watch, World Report - Cambodia (2014)
Maria O’Sullivan, Explainer: Does Cambodia refugee deal comply with the convention? The Conversation, 30 September 2014