Cambodian and Australian officials on Sunday denied claims made by a Rohingya refugee from Burma over the weekend that he was being poorly treated in Phnom Penh, with the Interior Ministry’s refugee director calling the man “a liar.”
The refugee, one of five people to have taken up an offer to move to Cambodia from Nauru, where Australia is holding hundreds of migrants who have been picked up on boats trying to reach its shores, told Fairfax Media in an interview published Sunday that he felt abandoned in Phnom Penh, feared dying here and regretted the move.
Fairfax, which identified the man as Mohammed Rashid, also reported that he was residing at an office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), despite the additional millions Australia has set aside to resettle the refugees, and that he has been suffering from asthma and severe lung and kidney problems since arriving on Nauru in 2013. The article said the IOM, which was contracted by Australia to handle the resettlement of the refugees in Phnom Penh, had taken him out of a hospital in Phnom Penh after three days against a doctor’s advice.
However, Tan Sovichea, refugee director at the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, said his staff were in contact with Mr. Rashid “almost every day” and called his claims a flat-out lie.
“Not true,” he said. “It means he lies…. He [is] a liar.”
He said Mr. Rashid was “doing well” and blamed any health issues on the man’s penchant for nocturnal revelry.
“He enjoys too much; he never sleeps,” Mr. Sovichea said. “He goes out three or four times a week.”
The refugee director also said that Mr. Rashid had been living out of the IOM office by choice.
“His condition is free; he can move anywhere…but he doesn’t want to move,” he said.
A spokesperson for Australia’s Immigration Department also insisted that the refugee, who arrived here in November, was being well cared for.
“Mr. Rashid continues to receive a very high level of support from the Department’s service provider, IOM, including daily face-to-face meetings each weekday, phone contact on weekends. He has been offered additional services, including counseling, which he has declined to access,” the spokesperson said.
The Australian spokesperson said Mr. Rashid was receiving treatment for an unspecified medical condition “with support from an IOM medical officer. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, his is eligible for health insurance for five years.”
The Australian spokesperson said Mr. Rashid has his initial housing fully paid for three months—the refugees are eligible for rent and utilities subsidies for up to a year—but has “so far declined to engage with IOM on their offer of assistance in seeking permanent accommodation options.”
The spokesperson did not address claims in the Fairfax report that promises of help setting up a restaurant and an $8,000 cash payout had been broken.
The IOM declined to comment.
In another story on Sunday, Fairfax reported that Australia’s opposition Greens party was asking the country’s auditor-general to find out more about the $30.3 million deal to resettle refugees from Nauru to Cambodia, which both governments have remained tight-lipped about, and whether the millions in additional aid Australia agreed to pay Cambodia was being well spent.
“Spending millions of dollars to grease the wheels of a corrupt regime so that the government can dump a handful of people in an impoverished country is unacceptable,” Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young was quoted as saying.
“It has been near impossible to get clear information about this deal through the Senate Estimates or committee process…. Sunlight truly is the best disinfectant and the office of the Auditor General has the power required to expose this deal for what it really is.”
Critics of the deal say Australia never intended to make Cambodia a viable destination for a significant number of the refugees languishing on Nauru and made the agreement mainly to deter other would-be migrants from attempting to set sail for its shores. Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton recently praised the deal as a successful piece of its “stop the boats” strategy.