CAMBODIA: Cambodians protest Australia using country as refugee ‘dumping ground’

Sunday 28 September 2014

Date: 26 September 2014

Type: News

Source: The Guardian

Keywords: Refugees

Monks, students and villagers from two of Phnom Penh’s most notorious eviction sites protested outside the Australian embassy on Friday, calling for a controversial refugee settlement deal not to be signed later in the day by the immigration minister, Scott Morrison.

Details are scant on what the memorandum of understanding contains, but it would see refugees who intended to seek asylum in Australia – only to be sent to the South Pacific island of Nauru – resettled in Cambodia.

Morrison is expected to ink the deal in a joint ceremony with Cambodia’s interior minister, Sar Kheng, at 3pm on Friday.

The embassy road was heavily manned with riot police, who erected barricades at either end to prevent the rally from getting too close. Protesters held up signs calling for Cambodia’s own dismal human rights and poverty situation to be addressed first.

One read: “Cambodia doesn’t discriminate other nations, but we need to help ourselves first, then we can help others.”

Another said Cambodia can’t accept what Australia has proposed, “as we are still poor”.

On Friday morning Morrison revealed that Australia will give $40m in aid to Cambodia, but denied it was part of a deal to take the refugees for resettlement.

The group of about 50 protesters made their way on foot around the block to get as close to the building as possible in order to hand in a petition asking for the deal to be called off.

At one point, in the shadow of the imposing embassy wall, a woman called Bo Chhorvy, from the Boeung Kak community – where 3,000 families have been evicted and their houses torn down to make way for a massive development project – was knocked down by police officials and suffered a cut to her head. Her friends dragged her aside and tried to revive her. “We cannot accept refugees,” a monk yelled into a loudspeaker.

Son Chhay, a lawmaker from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue party who was once a refugee in Australia, said his party had been frozen out and given no details whatsoever about how such a plan would be executed.

He also referred to Cambodia’s poor record regarding its handling of refugees supposed to be in its care.

“By sending back Montagnards from Vietnam and Uighurs from China and some refugees from North Korea, we don’t see the point why the government is accepting and wants refugees from Australia today,” he said.

“I believe Cambodia ought to implement the refugee convention … and provide support to genuine refugees, but not on a secretive [basis], not to use Cambodia as a dumping ground for unwanted refugees.”

Cambodia is the 17th most corrupt country in the world, according to the Transparency International corruption index. Chhay said he was concerned that the $40m could be siphoned off, and that Australia should shoulder the responsibility of doing business with Cambodia.

“It has to be open; today, we must show the public … what sort of deal they are making, what they are going to do with that money?”###

See online : The Guardian

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