Refugees on Nauru say Cambodian officials have returned to the tiny South Pacific island nation to once more try to convince some of them to resettle in Cambodia, according to an Australia-based group that advocates for refugee rights.
Cambodia first sent a delegation to Nauru in January, four months after striking a deal with Canberra to take in some of the hundreds of refugees Australia is holding on the island in exchange for an additional $35 million in aid over the next four years. The officials met with only three families on that trip, and failed to convince any of them to take up what is proving to be a very unpopular offer. Refugees on the island have staged several protests against the deal and the prospect of never reaching Australia.
On Wednesday, Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition said he was told by refugees he is in contact with on Nauru that a second Cambodian delegation arrived on the island on Sunday and was still there meeting with families.
“Cambodian officials are on Nauru; they are running [a] series of meetings in different languages,” he said. “Only two people from families…went to the meeting.”
Cambodia has denied the visit.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said on Tuesday that no Cambodian officials had visited Nauru since January, that no officials were there presently, and that no more trips had been scheduled.
General Sopheak could not be reached Wednesday.
Kerm Sarin, who heads the refugee office at the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, would neither confirm nor deny the presence of a Cambodian delegation on Nauru and referred the question to General Sopheak. Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said he had no idea if a Cambodian delegation was on the island and also deferred to the general.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng is currently in Australia, where he is likely to discuss the refugee deal during his meeting with Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.