Given that Australia has a clear capacity to integrate those who seek its protection in Australia, it is an improper use of resettlement to devolve that responsibility to yet another country.
Jesuit Refugee Service Asia Pacific (JRS-AP) is deeply concerned about the Australian Government’s request to Cambodia to resettle refugees from Australia’s off shore processing centre on Nauru. A spokesperson for the Cambodian Foreign Ministry has stated that Cambodia has agreed “in principle” to the request but was still considering its feasibility. He added that Cambodia would only accept refugees who agree to come to Cambodia.
JRS calls upon the Government of Australia to live up to its obligations under international law to guarantee adequate protection to these vulnerable individuals who have sought asylum in Australia, to ensure that they have due process, and if they are found to be refugees to grant them protection in Australia.
For many years now, Australia has had a range of policies aimed at deterring asylum seekers from arriving on its shores irregularly. It is alarming that resettlement in a third country is now being added to Australia’s armoury of deterrence instruments.
Cambodia is a country where many live well below the poverty line, and it still lacks the necessary legal and judicial processes, and the social infrastructure, to integrate refugees. Cambodia still has many challenges to meet, some arising from the displacement, starvation and genocide of the past.
At this point in its history Cambodia needs to address the poverty of its people; forced internal displacement caused by land evictions; mass labour migration and trafficking in persons; serious political tensions among elected national assembly members; the lack of an independent judicial system, and of procedures to deal with nationality, citizenship and status documentation.
Cambodia accepts refugees coming to its own borders but is still developing processes for granting work permits and residency cards, and eventual citizenship. It is not at all evident that the necessary safeguards are in place for refugees to be resettled there.
Under the current arrangements between Australia and Nauru, unless refugees can be sustainably settled in Nauru in a way that guarantees them adequate protections, the obligation to protect falls to Australia. Given that Australia has a clear capacity to integrate those who seek its protection in Australia, it is an improper use of resettlement to devolve that responsibility to yet another country.
The fact that it is trying to do so betrays the current plan for what it is: not an attempt to share responsibility in the region, but an instrument of deterrence for those planning to go to Australia, and a punitive measure against those who have actually done so.
JRS works in both Australia and Cambodia promoting hospitality toward refugees, and seeking to support and accompany them in their journey from persecution to freedom. Whatever the outcome of the negotiations between these two countries, JRS will be ready to serve, accompany, and defend the rights of these vulnerable people wherever they may be.
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Oliver White, Head of Policy & Advocacy
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