Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Thursday that Cambodian officials would visit Nauru within weeks to vet more refugees for their controversial resettlement scheme, according to Australian media.
His remarks come a day after he made an unannounced visit to Phnom Penh to shore up a deal that appeared to be collapsing.
A year ago, Australia pledged to furnish Cambodia with an additional AU$40 million ($28.1 million) in aid for agreeing to resettle an unspecified number of the hundreds of refugees Australia is holding on the tiny South Pacific island of Nauru. Mr. Dutton’s surprise visit on Wednesday followed widespread media reports that Cambodia might refuse to take any more refugees on top of the four it welcomed in June.
Following Mr. Dutton’s closed-door meeting with Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Prime Minister Hun Sen, an adviser to the premier said Cambodia would accept more refugees, but provided no details.
On Thursday, Mr. Dutton said Cambodia would send a delegation to Nauru in the next few weeks to interview a new group of volunteers that Australia has already found, according to Australia’s ABC News.
According to the report, the immigration minister sympathized with Cambodia’s claims that it was struggling to integrate the first group.
“Let’s say the first four were to demonstrate both to us and to the Cambodians that the situation could work and they’ve been able to pioneer this particular program,” he said. “They have identified some strengths and weaknesses and we’ll work with the Cambodians to make sure that we can iron those out in the next group of people that come through.”
Neither the spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which is handling Cambodia’s side of the resettlement deal, nor the head of the ministry’s immigration department could be reached Thursday. Other officials at the department said they knew nothing about the reported development.
Australia and the International Organization for Migration, which is helping to facilitate the resettlements, have isolated the four refugees at a gated compound in Phnom Penh. It emerged last week that one of them, a Rohingya man who fled persecution in Burma, has asked to return to his home country.
(Additional reporting by Aun Pheap)