Sar Kheng Says Much to Discuss in Asylum Deal

Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Thursday said that important details of a pending deal that would see asylum seekers detained by Australia sent to Cambodia still had to be worked out before transfers could begin, dispelling speculation that an agreement was imminent.

“So far, we have not reached a deal because there are still a lot of things to discuss,” Mr. Kheng told reporters on the sidelines of an unrelated event in Phnom Penh.

“The big issue is that we need more detailed information about nationality, responsibility, guarantees for their [asylum-seekers’] future and other things,” he said. “Long Visalo [a secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs] is continuing to work on this.”

Mr. Kheng added that the government has yet to decide where in Cambodia refugees would be resettled once they arrive.

Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary of State Ouch Borith, who has been heavily involved in negotiations with Australia, said Wednesday that Cambodia and Australia were still reviewing each other’s proposals.

Both countries have proceeded with the talks under a thick shroud of secrecy.

Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong first broke the news about Australia’s request that Cambodia resettle some of the thousands of refugees trying to reach its shores, during a visit from his Australian counterpart, Julie Bishop, in February.

The plan was met with immediate criticism from opposition lawmakers and rights groups in both countries, who accuse Australia of shirking its obligation to the asylum seekers by attempting to send them to one of the poorest countries in the world.

The U.N. has also spoken out against the plan.

“A real solution is not to send them to a country that is still recovering from a horrible civil war that killed millions of its people,” a senior regional protection adviser for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in April. “It’s not in the spirit of resettlement as far as I can tell.”

[email protected]

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.