World Vision and other aid agencies reject Australia’s refugee deal with Cambodia

Sarah Whyte
Sydney Morning Herald, 22 March 2015

International aid agencies based in Cambodia have rejected the Abbott government’s resettlement deal, saying it is not appropriate for a country that has been accused of human rights abuses and has no refugee resettlement experience.

Fairfax Media understands immigration officials Greg Kelly and Pilar Davidson, based in the Australian embassy, visited a number of non-government agencies after the Abbott government offered $40 million in development aid to Cambodia in return for a refugee resettlement deal in September last year.

In the meetings, it is understood officials wanted to get a greater understanding of the country and its development focus.

The Cambodian national director of World Vision, Jason Evans, confirmed the meeting, saying the officials had approached the NGO and that he was aware that a number of international NGOs were also approached.

“We do trust that the Australian government is doing its due diligence, however, we are concerned about the precedent that this sets, as this type of deal is not something that the development community would support,” he said.

Mr Evans said that World Vision, along with the “vast majority of international NGOs” were of the strong opinion that the deal was not in the interests of Cambodian citizens and may add “additional strains on a country still experiencing high degrees of poverty”.

A senior advisor in the development sector told Fairfax Media that many international NGOs had also refused to facilitate the deal when approached by the Australian government.

“None would go near it, particularly given the bruising [Save The Children] has gone through recently,” the advisor said.

A large number of local NGOs have also rejected the deal, saying Cambodia’s Hun Sen government needed to fix the country’s domestic issues including access to healthcare, education and employment.

The executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, Tek Vannara said the government didn’t have the capacity to solve its own issues.
“The majority of the NGOs do not support this,” he said.

The Australian government has said that it was developing a number of partnerships with a “range of NGOs” to establish support for any asylum seeker who chose to resettle in Phnom Penh.

“Both Australian and Cambodian governments recognise the value of doing this work with the involvement of key international stakeholders, including UNHCR,” a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said.

However, a UNHCR spokeswoman Vivian Tan has denied involvement, saying: “We have no role in implementing it.”

Last month, the International Organisation of Migration agreed to facilitate the deal, providing that refugees can stay and work in the country’s capital. It will also provide services to any refugees who voluntarily take up the offer from Nauru.

The IOM argued the deal was in the “best interests of the refugees” and offered new options to them in a country that is experiencing significant economic and development growth.

A Cambodian delegation will meet with refugees on Nauru, the spokeswoman for Mr Dutton said. This month he told local media in Cambodia that he expected about five families to take up the offer.

This article was originally published here.

Sarah Whyte was in Cambodia for the 2015 International Development Journalism Fellowship.