Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday that Cambodia may soon agree to take in asylum seekers who are now detained on the South Pacific island nation of Nauru after being diverted while trying to reach Australia.
Mr. Morrison told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that next month his government will start processing about 60 refugees per month held at the Nauru detention center. He said a resettlement agreement is nearing among the governments of Nauru, Australia and Cambodia.
Asked about the ethics of sending refugees to Cambodia, which the presenter described as “one of the poorest, most war damaged countries in the world,” Mr. Morrison replied that talks with Cambodia centered only on resettlement.
“This is about resettlement, not processing,” he said. “The processing is done in Nauru; whether someone’s a refugee would be determined by that process.”
He also defended Cambodia as a destination for refugee resettlement.
“Resettlement is about freedom from persecution, it’s not a ticket to a first-class economy and there’s a very interesting question, that is: Are we going to get behind a program that can expand the number of countries that can participate in global resettlement, [for which] there is a dearth of places?” Mr. Morrison said.
“Or are we going to hold out and say, ‘well we’re only interested in freeing people from persecution if they can do so in a first world economy?’”
“We’re talking about effectively three [U.N. Refugee Convention] signatory countries that are talking to each other, now after my discussions with Nauru today: Nauru, Australia and Cambodia,” Mr. Morrison said. “I think this has real promise.”
“There will be resettlement packages, should we be able to arrive at an agreement,” Mr. Morrison added, without elaborating on the content of the packages.
Last week, Mr. Morrison paid a 24-hour visit to Phnom Penh to meet government officials and build on Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s February visit to the country. She then asked Prime Minister Hun Sen to accept asylum seekers.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Thursday he was personally unaware of any pending agreement for Cambodia to accept refugees being processed on Nauru.