The first group of refugees being resettled in Cambodia as part of a controversial deal with Australia landed at Phnom Penh International Airport at about 10:30 a.m. Thursday morning and were hastily driven away in a van as a crowd of reporters and photographers waited outside the airport’s VIP terminal.
“The first group of refugees to be settled from Nauru to Cambodia landed today on a commercial flight in Phnom Penh,” the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is helping to facilitate the refugees’ resettlement, said in a statement posted to its website Thursday morning.
The four refugees—a Rohingya man and three Iranians—are the first to move to Cambodia under a 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 holding on the South Pacific island of Nauru.
Australia has agreed to cover the expenses of refugees who take up the offer for at least a year, and offered Cambodia an additional AU$40 million (US$31.2 million) in aid for agreeing to take them in. Last week, Australia revealed that it would spend an additional AU$15 million (US$12.1 million) on resettling the refugees.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the IOM said the organization was ready to welcome them at any time.
The IOM says it has already arranged temporary accommodation for the refugees and will provide them with meals and initial services as soon as they arrive, including cultural orientation and language instruction.
The deal has been heavily criticized by rights workers and opposition lawmakers in both Cambodia and Australia, who accuse Canberra of shirking its international obligations to asylum seekers attempting to reach its shores by shunting them off to one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world.