Australia’s Immigration Department on Thursday confirmed that a letter being handed out to refugees on Nauru filled with false claims about Cambodia—where Australia hopes they decide to resettle—was issued by the department, but declined to say whether there were any takers.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Wednesday said it was expecting the first refugees that Australia is holding on Nauru, a tiny island nation in the South Pacific, to arrive in Cambodia within days, but offered no other details.
News reports citing unnamed sources said that up to 10 refugees would arrive within a matter of days.
A spokeswoman for Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, however, said Thursday that talks with the refugees were still ongoing.
“Some have indicated interest,” said Merryn Royle. “They’re still in negotiation. Exact numbers are not available yet.”
The negotiations are part of a deal that Cambodia and Australia signed in September in which Cambodia agreed to resettle an unlimited number of the hundreds of refugees on Nauru in exchange for an additional $35 million in aid over the next four years. The IOM has agreed to help implement the deal.
News of the imminent arrival of the first group of refugees came on Wednesday, the same day that a letter selling them on Cambodia was leaked.
The letter offers the refugees a primer on what they can expect upon landing in Phnom Penh, including free temporary housing and help finding work or starting a business. Australia promises to cover most of their expenses for a year, and extend some benefits for an additional three.
But the letter also lies to the refugees about conditions in Cambodia. It claims that Cambodians “enjoy all the freedoms of a democratic society including…freedom of speech,” that the country “does not have a problem with violent crime” and “has a high standard of health care.”
Asked to explain the Immigration Department’s claims in the letter, Ms. Royle requested that question be sent in an email. The email, however, went unanswered.
The letter says the first flight for Cambodia for any of the refugees who take up the offer to resettle here will take off “as soon as 20 April.”
Kerm Sarin, who heads the refugee office at the Cambodian Interior Ministry’s immigration department, said he knew nothing about any imminent arrival of refugees from Nauru. Other officials at the ministries of interior and foreign affairs could not be reached for comment.
(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey)