Immigration minister Scott Morrison will sign deal on Friday to allow asylum seekers on Nauru to be resettled in Cambodia.
theguardian.com, Friday 26 September 2014
The immigration minister has said Australia will give $40m in aid to Cambodia over the next four years, on the eve of signing a controversial deal to resettle asylum seekers in one of the poorest nations in South-East Asia.
On Friday Scott Morrison will sign a historic deal in person in Cambodia that will allow asylum seekers who are currently on Nauru to be resettled there.
The policy has been roundly condemned by human rights groups and the Australian Greens, who have expressed serious concerns about sending asylum seekers to Cambodia.
World Bank figures estimate that more than 20% of its population is living below the poverty line. Cambodia also rates below North Korea on Transparency International's most recent corruption perception index, placing it at 160 out of 177 countries surveyed.
The United Nations Refugee Agency was also unaware of the details of the agreement when it became public last week.
When asked what Cambodia would be given in return for the asylum seeker deal, Morrison told ABC Radio: "The most important thing we're giving them is our expertise. Cambodia wants to be a country that can resettle refugees properly and they're seeking our advice and expertise on how we can do that."
"But in addition to that, and it's not driven by this, I should stress, the Australian government will be providing over four years $40m to support various overseas development aid projects. That's on top of the $79m or thereabouts we currently provide in aid to Cambodia."
Amnesty International said the deal was a new low in Australia's treatment of asylum seekers.
"This agreement is putting the short-term political interests of the Australian government ahead of the protection of some of the world's most vulnerable people – refugees," said Rupert Abbott, deputy Asia-Pacific director at Amnesty International.
Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch, said the deal with Cambodia "will send people to a country that has a terrible record for protecting refugees and is mired in serious human rights abuses".
When questioned on whether he had concerns about sending asylum seekers to the country Morrison said: "Well, I don't necessarily agree with that absolute assessment because in the seven years to 2011 the percentage of people in poverty in Cambodia has fallen from over 50% to around 20%."
"I mean this is a country that is trying to get on its feet; this is a country that is making great progress."
The Refugee Council of Australia's chief executive officer, Paul Power, said Australia "cannot possibly expect" that Cambodia could support asylum seekers who need to recover from trauma and settle them successfully.