The government has granted final approval to four refugees that Australia had been holding on the South Pacific island of Nauru to be resettled in Cambodia, clearing the way for their transfer to Phnom Penh.
“I have received approval from my government that four people—four refugees—should come to resettle permanently in Cambodia,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Thursday afternoon. “The approval comes from Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 20.”
General Sopheak added that Cambodia and Australia were still in talks over exactly when the refugees would arrive.
The four refugees approved for resettlement—a Rohingya man and three Iranians—will be the first to move to Cambodia under a controversial transfer deal Canberra and Phnom Penh signed last year, in which Cambodia agreed to take in an unspecified number of the hundreds of refugees Australia is detaining on Nauru and refusing to resettle itself.
Australia has agreed to cover the expenses of refugees who take up the offer for at least a year and offered Cambodia an additional $31.6 million aid package for agreeing to take them.
An Australian refugee advocacy group claims that the four refugees were transferred to Darwin over a week ago, likely in preparation for their move to Cambodia, but neither Australia nor Cambodia confirmed the report.
The deal has been heavily criticized by rights groups and opposition lawmakers in both countries, who accuse Australia of shirking its international obligations for asylum seekers trying to reach its shores by shunting them off to one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world.