After Scramble, Campaign on Nauru Ramps Up

Less than two weeks after Australia’s immigration minister met with Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh following media reports that a controversial refugee deal had collapsed, a spokesman for an organization that monitors refugees on Nauru said that asylum seekers there are again being “harassed” to resettle in Cambodia.

On September 9, following a meeting between Peter Dutton and Mr. Hun Sen, an adviser to the prime minister announced that Cambodia was ready to start vetting more of the asylum seekers being held by Australia on the South Pacific island nation. 

Ian Rintoul, a spokesman for the Sydney-based Refugee Action Coalition, said Friday that, ahead of a planned visit by Cambodian officials to Nauru next month, refugees on the island have started receiving calls from Australian officials trying to persuade them to resettle here.

“Since Dutton visited Cambodia, the cold-calling and harassment has started again on Nauru—but there is no sign that anyone has agreed to go,” Mr. Rintoul said via email.

“The Interior Ministry announcement makes it sound like more people have agreed but they have given themselves a lot of wriggle room,” he added, referring to statements from Cambodian officials that they are prepared to accept more volunteers from Nauru.

In the deal, which was signed over a champagne toast last September by Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Australia’s former immigration minister, Scott Morri­son, Cambodia agreed to receive an unspecified number of refugees being detained by Australia, which refuses asylum to those who attempt to arrive via boat.

The deal stipulates that Cambodia will only take refugees who volunteer to be resettled in the country, and that Australia will cover resettlement and integration costs. Australia also pledged a AU$40 million (about $28.5 million) aid package as part of the deal.

Thus far, only four refugees— a Rohingya from Burma and three Iranians—have arrived in the country. They are being kept away from the media in a villa on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Earlier this month, it was reported that the Rohingya man wants to return to Burma—where the Muslim minority has faced severe persecution in recent years.

Contacted by telephone, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak—who sparked speculation that the deal was falling apart last month after saying there was no plan to take more refugees from Nauru—said no dates had been set for Cambodian officials to visit Nauru.

“I have no new information on this,” he said.

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