On 26 September 2014, Australia and Cambodia entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) providing for the permanent resettlement in Cambodia of refugees held on Nauru.

Under the terms of the MOU, only asylum seekers who are determined to be refugees under the Refugees Convention, who meet Cambodian entry and resettlement requirements, and who voluntarily accept an offer of settlement, can be resettled in Cambodia.

The MOU is accompanied by operational guidelines, which set out settlement, reception, accommodation and integration processes. Importantly, 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 because of the significant hurdles Cambodia faces to provide refugees with protection and support. Although Cambodia is a signatory to the Refugees Convention, human rights conditions are generally poor, with widespread corruption and arbitrary detention being major issues. The deal has also been criticised as an abrogation of Australia’s obligations under the Refugees Convention.   

Australia bears the operational costs of the deal, pledging $15 million to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to administer the program. As part of the deal, Australia also gave $40 million in development assistance to Cambodia, bringing the total allocated as part of the resettlement deal to $55 million.

The deal supplements existing agreements into which Australia has already entered with Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

In 2015, the first four voluntary refugees were resettled in Cambodia under the agreement. Scott Morrison, then Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, announced that his government might transfer up to 1,000 refugees under the deal. Following the initial transfer, a further three refugees were transferred from Nauru to Cambodia, bringing the total to seven. As of September 2018, only one out of these seven reportedly remain in Cambodia.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) confirmed that the deal was to expire on 26 September 2018. Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen announced he was prepared to accept more refugees, however there are growing concerns regarding democracy in Cambodia. The Australian government has not publicly announced if it plans to continue the deal now it has expired.


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Last updated 6 October 2018