In a closed-door meeting on Thursday in Phnom Penh, Australia’s immigration minister, Peter Dutton, and Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong discussed the possibility of resettling five families of refugees currently being detained on the South Pacific island nation of Nauru as a test run before more are sent to Cambodia.
The Cambodian government signed a controversial agreement with Australia in September to allow legally recognized refugees being held on Nauru to be resettled in Cambodia in exchange for an additional $35 million in aid over the next four years.
Speaking to members of the media after the meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the five families would be relocated to Cambodia only if they volunteered.
“We will not force Australia’s refugees to come to stay in Cambodia if they do not agree; we need them to show up as volunteers,” Mr. Kuong said.
“We have a plan to try and send about five families first to Cambodia and we will send more people if others agree to come,” he added.
“We do not know how many of the volunteers will come to Cambodia, because the two countries have not yet reached an agreement as to when they will send those people and where they will be located.”
So far, few refugees have expressed any interest in resettling in Cambodia. When Cambodian officials traveled to Nauru in January, just three of the hundreds of refugees being held on the island chose to meet with the delegation.
During his one-day visit to Cambodia, Mr. Dutton also met with Interior Minister Sar Kheng, immigration head Sok Phal and National Police chief Neth Savoeun.