Cambodia has agreed to help Australia stem its growing tide of illegal immigrants.
Under a memorandum of understanding signed in Phnom Penh Monday by Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng and Australian Minister of Immigration Philip Ruddock, the Cambodian government will strengthen efforts to halt the large number of illegal immigrants who enter Cambodia with the intention of continuing to a third country, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said.
Cambodia agreed to treat illegal immigrants fairly, but also promised to return them quickly to their home countries, Khieu Sopheak said.
In the future, he said, Australia and Cambodia will work more closely to share information about illegal immigrants.
Cambodian officials seized an Indonesian-owned logging vessel last July near Sihanoukville that was carrying 256 Central Asian asylum seekers. The immigrants were mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan and had paid $5,000 to $8,000 apiece to human traffickers who had promised to take them to Australia.
Australia became a popular destination for illegal immigrants because it granted visas to a large proportion of applicants. Since then the government has cracked down.
Last August, a boat carrying 348 Middle East asylum seekers arrived in Australia from Indonesia, touching off an ongoing domestic political controversy.
Australia is an important donor to Cambodia, giving money for demining, flood relief and last month’s commune council elections. In 2000 and 2001, Australia pledged $20.6 million, in addition to $2.5 million in humanitarian assistance.