More Nauru Refugees Opt for Cambodia as Paths to US Narrow

Two more refugees being held on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru have volunteered to move to Cambodia and are now awaiting the go-ahead from the Interior Ministry, according to an immigration official.

The refugees, one from Syria and the other a member of the beleaguered Rohingya minority of Burma, will arrive under a controversial deal with Australia that allows those being held in detention centers in the island nation—after being caught trying to reach Australian shores—to be resettled in Cambodia. Only a handful have taken up the offer since the deal was struck in September 2014, with the sixth refugee making the journey to Cambodia in November last year. Four have already left to return to their home countries, saying they felt unsafe and abandoned by officials.

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Officials escort the first group of refugees from Nauru into a van at Phnom Penh International Airport in 2015 (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Tan Sovichea, director of the immigration department’s refugee office, confirmed on Monday that two more refugees would be heading this way.

“Our officials already interviewed the pair last month and they volunteered to come and live in Cambodia,” he said.

The interviews took place on January 28 in Nauru, Mr. Sovichea said. Whether they would be admitted to Cambodia depends on Interior Minister Sar Kheng, but Mr. Sovichea could not say when Mr. Kheng would decide the case.

Under the deal, an extra $30.2 million in aid was promised to Cambodia over the course of four years in exchange for resettling an unspecified number of refugees.

Reports in Australian media have claimed that the refugees were offered financial incentive to move to Cambodia, but it is unclear if any so far have received any money.

Late last year, the U.S. agreed to resettle all refugees currently in processing centers on Nauru. But the U.S.’s new administration has left this deal uncertain, with President Donald Trump tweeting that it was a “dumb deal” following a call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last month.

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