April 20, 2015 | theguardian
Spokesman for Cambodia’s interior ministry says a delegation left for Nauru on Monday but ‘we don’t know anyone who volunteered so far’
Cambodian officials have confirmed they are sending a delegation to Nauru to discuss settlement plans, but have said no arrivals were imminent from the island, contradicting comments by Australia’s immigration minister, Peter Dutton.
Last week letters were distributed by Australian immigration staff to refugees on Nauru offering them a settlement package in Cambodia. A spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration has confirmed it was sending an official in anticipation of movements.
Small protests have also occurred in the refugee community living on Nauru surrounding the Cambodia arrangement. One 12-year-old boy also attempted to throw himself into the ocean in an apparent attempt to self-harm.
While the transfer of refugees for settlement from Nauru to Cambodia was scheduled to leave on Monday, the move has faced delays, in part due to the arrival of Cambodian officials.
On Monday, Dutton also said there were logistical issues with officials from Cambodia. He added that if it had “forced a delay of a couple of days then so be it”.
Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for Cambodia’s interior ministry, told the Phnom Penh Post that a delegation was en route on Monday to Nauru.
But he also contradicted Dutton’s comments about the transfers, and said that no arrivals were imminent from Nauru.
“We have received a request from the embassy and [the interior minister, Sar] Kheng has already ordered the immigration department to send officials to Nauru, either [yesterday] or [today], depending on the availability of plane tickets.
“We don’t know anyone [who] volunteered so far,” he said.
Another official from the foreign ministry, Koy Kuong, said officials “were confused by the Australian side”, and the comments contained in a letter to refugees that said flights could begin as early as Monday.
Dutton told ABC radio that Australia had approached “a large number of people on Nauru” for potential resettlement.
The memorandum of understanding between Cambodia and Australia says that Cambodia will offer permanent settlement to people who have “undergone a refugee status determination process in the republic of Nauru and have been determined to be a refugee, and meet the entry and settlement requirements of the kingdom of Cambodia”.
They must be found to be refugees, have made a voluntary decision to go to Cambodia and must have their applications considered by Cambodian officials.
The settlement push for Cambodia has faced heavy criticism from human rights groups. Unicef says Australia would be violating the rights of children if transfers to Cambodia went ahead.