Amnesty International Urges Gov’t to Scrap Asylum Seeker Plans

Amnesty International on Friday lambasted a pending deal that would see people seeking asylum in Australia to be resettled in Cambodia.

Cambodia has already agreed in principle with Australia to take in asylum seekers who are currently being detained on the South Pacific island of Nauru, although a final deal has not been signed.

“Australia should be ending its offshore processing and detention of asylum seekers, not looking to outsource its refugee responsibilities to another, much poorer country,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director, in a statement.

“Cambodia should be aware of the serious risks around this arrangement and must consider whether it really is ready to participate. The country has only limited capacity to process asylum seeker claims and is still struggling to respect and protect the rights of its own citizens.”

Cambodia has a poor track record handling refugees and asylum seekers.

In December 2009, 20 ethnic Uighurs, including a pregnant women and two children, were returned at gunpoint to China after having fled violence in Xinjiang Autonomous Uighur Region. In forcibly deporting the Uighurs, whose claims for asylum were still being processed at the time, Cambodia flouted the 1951 U.N. convention on refugees as well as a separate U.N. protocol on the deportation of refugees.

The government also shuttered the U.N. refugee agency’s center in Phnom Penh in 2011, and 75 Montagnard asylum seekers were resettled abroad or deported to Vietnam, where they claim they are persecuted for their Christian beliefs and demands for indigenous land rights.

“The proposed agreement with Australia also comes at a time when the human rights situation in Cambodia has deteriorated to the point of crisis, a situation that Australia itself has criticized,” Amnesty said in relation to the violent suppression of opposition and garment protests.

“Aside from being unlawful, it is perverse and shameful for Australia to be sending asylum seekers to a country where respect for their human rights cannot be guaranteed and which Australia itself has recently condemned for failing to respect human rights,” Mr. Bennett added.

Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry could not be reached for comment.

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