The International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Monday said it was drawing up a plan to help with the controversial resettlement of refugees from the South Pacific island nation of Nauru to Cambodia, the first time the multinational body has confirmed its intentions to play a formal role in the transfers.
In September, Phnom Penh accepted Canberra’s request to make a home for an indefinite number of refugees Australia was holding in Nauru in return for an additional $35 million in aid over the next four years.
When news of negotiations broke earlier last year, the plan drew immediate and harsh rebuke from opposition lawmakers and rights groups in both countries, who accused Australia of shirking its responsibilities by seeking to offload the refugees on one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the region.
Despite the controversy, the IOM said last month that it would accept Cambodia’s request for help—if the government agreed to certain conditions, which the organization refused to reveal at the time.
In a statement Monday, the IOM says it has begun preparing an assistance plan after Cambodia agreed to the conditions, which include providing the refugees with all the legal documents they need to access health care, find work and send their children to school.
The dearth of such documents for refugees already in Cambodia has been one of the main criticisms opponents of the resettlement deal have used to argue against it.
“IOM has built up global expertise over the past 64 years, having resettled millions of people in new home countries. The organization will offer similar services once the status of the migrants in Nauru is determined and if they opt for resettlement in Cambodia,” the statement says.
Despite a visit by Cambodian immigration officials to Nauru last month, none of the refugees on the island have agreed to resettle in Cambodia.
For any of the 400 refugees in Nauru who take up the offer—another 800 asylum seekers are awaiting refugee status determination—the IOM will offer them orientation and language instruction before their arrival, and help them find work and access public services once they get here, according to the statement.
The IOM stresses that it will make no attempt to either dissuade or persuade the refugees to move to Cambodia.
The organization also finally lays out some of the conditions that Cambodia agreed to in return for its help.
These include the possibility of family reunification for the refugees; the right to live and work anywhere in Cambodia; enough funding to allow the refugees to become self-reliant; documents to allow the refugees find work and access public services; and an agreement that gives refugees already in Cambodia the same opportunities.
“The Government of Cambodia has given assurances that it will cooperate with IOM in fulfilling these conditions,” the statement says.
The government had previously said that the refugees from Nauru would be settled outside of Phnom Penh once they learn basic Khmer and pass a health check.
Contacted by email, IOM regional spokesman Joe Lowry said Cambodia offered the assurances by letter but declined to share a copy.
Mr. Lowry also declined to say what steps the IOM would take to assure compliance by Cambodia and whether it would pull out of the deal if the country fell short.
“We are confident all assurances given will be met,” he said.