Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday said Cambodia would be prepared to offer temporary shelter to the thousands of Rohingya asylum seekers stranded in the Andaman Sea if the U.N. agrees to resettle them in another country, according to Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan.
Malaysia and Indonesia announced on Wednesday that they would start allowing the asylum seekers to disembark in their countries if others agreed to resettle them, and Mr. Siphan said Mr. Hun Sen suggested at Friday’s Council of Ministers meeting that Cambodia could be part of such a solution.
“It was not a policy yet, he just raised his way of thinking,” Mr. Siphan said. “He felt that Asean has a duty to deal with this issue, and he thought that Cambodia might offer a place for those people to come onto Cambodia soil.”
“They could come here with a U.N. commitment to move to a second country. It needs this U.N. commitment. If the U.N. does not commit, we cannot do this,” he added.
“Let me repeat: this is not a policy or commitment, it is a thought to provide land for those refugees to disembark if there is a U.N. commitment to move those refugees. We have not talked to the U.N. yet, or had any commitments.”
Mr. Hun Sen also said the government could offer “holding camps” for any asylum seekers awaiting resettlement after they land in Southeast Asia, Mr. Siphan said.
It is unlikely that any such solution would involve any of the asylum seekers in the Andaman Sea directly disembarking in Cambodia, as such a journey would require them to sail thousands of kilometers around the Malaysian peninsula instead of landing in Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand.
Thousands of Rohingya fleeing persecution in Burma, along with Bangladeshi migrants hoping to escape poverty, have been stranded in the sea for weeks as countries in the region turned away their boats, many of which had been abandoned by people smugglers.
According to The Associated Press, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Thursday estimated that about 3,000 asylum seekers have landed in Malaysian and Indonesia so far, but that an estimated 3,000 more remain adrift, with Malaysian navy vessels searching for them.
Last week, a Malaysian government minister also suggested that any asylum seekers who land in Malaysia could then be sent on to Cambodia or the Philippines, arguing that both are signatories to the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention.
“If they pass through our maritime border and humanitarian considerations need to be applied, we will save them, take them into custody and hand them over to immigration for detention,” said Shahidan Kassim, a minister inside the Malaysian prime minister’s department.
“From there, UNHCR must take charge and move them to another country, or send them back to their country of origin,” he said, referring to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Representatives for the International Organization on Migration and the UNHCR declined to comment on Mr. Hun Sen’s proposal until more details are made public.