Australian Ambassador Angela Corcoran and Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn reaffirmed their two countries’ commitment to a controversial and unpopular refugee resettlement deal they struck in 2014, a spokesman for the minister said on Thursday.
Under the terms of the deal, Cambodia agreed to take in an unspecified number of the several hundred asylum-seekers and refugees Australia is holding on the South Pacific island of Nauru, as long as they volunteer to be relocated. In exchange, Cambodia is receiving an extra $30.5 million in aid.
Only five refugees have made the move so far, and three of them have since opted to return to the countries they initially fled. Rights groups and opposition lawmakers in Australia and Cambodia have accused Australia of shirking its international obligations to those on Nauru, and have rebuked Canberra for trying to shunt them off to one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the region.
Despite the controversy and the dearth of refugees interested in moving to Cambodia, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry told reporters on Thursday that the ambassador and minister reasserted their commitment to the deal during a private meeting in Phnom Penh.
“The ambassador confirmed that Australia was happy to continue to implement the [deal] on the refugees,” he said. “The senior minister clarified that Cambodia would continue to make it convenient to resettle the refugees Australia sends.”
In May, the Interior Ministry’s immigration department said Cambodia was preparing for another visit to Nauru to vet two new volunteers, although the trip has yet to happen.
Contacted on Thursday, the department’s administration chief, Kem Sarin, said the trip was still on hold because Australia had yet to finalize plans for the visit and because the situation on Nauru was “unstable.”