World Bulletin/News Desk
Cambodia’s prime minister has defended a controversial refugee transfer deal with Australia, which was signed and toasted with champagne at an opulent ceremony last month.
The Cambodia Daily reported Monday that Hun Sen said the deal to resettle refugees detained on the South Pacific island of Nauru in Cambodia in exchange for AU$40 million, “is based on a voluntary and humanitarian foundation.”
Refugees who arrive in Cambodia “must agree via a written document without any coercion,” he added in the letter, written November 17 and addressed to National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
The Daily said the premier’s letter was in response to one sent by Kem Sokha, deputy opposition leader and deputy Assembly president, in October to urge a rethinking of September’s deal.
Yim Sovann, spokesperson for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, told The Anadolu Agency on Monday, “We need to solve our problems first before we do anything else, because there are a lot of human rights violations in Cambodia.”
Saying that 20 to 30 percent of Cambodians live under the poverty line, he added, “I think that in the world there are lot of countries that have resources, they have democracy and can perform their humanitarian duties better than us.”
In his letter, Hun Sen reiterated that under the deal, Australia would be responsible for covering costs such as the refugees’ transport to Cambodia, temporary shelter, food, clothes and language interpretation services.
The agreement has come under fire from rights groups, opposition parties in both Australia and Cambodia and refugee advocacy organizations, which say Australia is divesting itself of responsibility to accept refugees.
During a fact-finding visit to Cambodia last week, Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told AA that the country was an unsuitable destination for Nauru refugees, many of whom had undergone trauma while traveling to Australia -- only to be detained.
Cambodia is currently home to 63 refugees and has a poor track record toward those seeking protection.
A Human Rights Watch report released last week said that since the government took over processing refugee applications from the U.N. refugee agency in 2009, “not a single refugee has ever received a Cambodian residence card, let alone citizenship.”
In December 2009, on the eve of a $1 billion package from China, Cambodia deported 20 ethnic Chinese Uighurs at gunpoint, even though their asylum applications were still being processed.
Among the group, which had fled violence in Xinjiang, were a pregnant woman and two children. At least four were jailed for life in China while 12 others were jailed for up to 20 years.
The move flouted the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and the 1967 UN Protocol on the Deportation of Refugees, Human Rights Watch said.
Last Mod: 24 Kasım 2014, 12:10