Government Readies New Nauru Visit to Meet Refugees

The Interior Ministry has made tentative plans to send a delegation of three people to the South Pacific island of Nauru next month to meet and vet two more refugees who have volunteered to resettle in Cambodia.

It’s the latest move in a controversial deal Cambodia made in late 2014 to take in an unspecified number of the hundreds of refugees being held on Nauru after failing to reach Australia. Of the five people who have since made the move, three have opted to return to the home countries they fled.

Confirmation from the Interior Ministry’s immigration department earlier this month that there were two more volunteers breathed fresh life into a deal that has at times seemed to be teetering on the verge of collapse.

In September, Australia’s immigration minister, Peter Dutton, made a surprise visit to Phnom Penh in an apparent bid to keep the scheme alive after a spokesman for Cambodia’s Interior Ministry suggested that the first four refugees who arrived a few months earlier could be the last.

On Monday, immigration department director Sok Phal said plans were tentatively being made for Cambodian officials to visit Nauru next month, but that there was no fixed date for the trip.

“The plan is June,” he said.

General Phal said Australia, which runs the Nauru camps, requested a brief delay to the trip. He referred further questions to the Australian government, which did not reply to a request for comment.

Tan Sovichea, who heads the immigration department’s refugee unit, said both of the new volunteers were from Iran.

“We have a plan to send three officials to Nauru to interview the two Iranians, but I do not yet know when the trip will be because the interior minister has not yet made a decision,” he said.

An Iranian couple was among the first four refugees who left Nauru for Cambodia last year but has since returned to Iran. The two refugees who moved from Nauru and remain in Cambodia are both Rohingya from Burma, according to the Cambodian government.

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