CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Four refugees rejected by Australia who have agreed to resettle in Cambodia will likely become examples that other refugees will follow, an Australian minister said Friday.
Cambodia has agreed to accept the first four refugees under a 40 million Australian dollar ($32 million) four-year agreement it made with Australia nine months ago to resettle asylum seekers held in an Australia-run detention camp on the Pacific island nation of Nauru. Many of the 677 asylum seekers on Nauru have been there for almost two years.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen signed an endorsement letter Wednesday and the countries are now discussing when the four will arrive in Cambodia, Gen. Khieu Sopheak, spokesman of Cambodia's Interior Ministry, said Thursday.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Australian officials were working with the International Organization for Migration and other groups in Cambodia to provide the refugees' needs for accommodation, jobs, transport and education.
"We want to show success with this first four who travel," Dutton told reporters. "I think when we demonstrate that that can be a success, we'll see other people from Nauru follow to start their new life in Cambodia."
The first Cambodian settlers will be two Iranian men, an Iranian woman and a Rohingya man from Myanmar. They are the only ones so far to apply for Cambodian residency, the Cambodian general said. He declined to say where in Cambodia they would live once they arrive.
Dutton defended the steep cost to Australian taxpayers of the AU$40 million agreement that has so far attracted only four people from among the 488 verified refugees on Nauru.
Australia's tough policies of turning back asylum seeker boats back to Indonesia and refusing to resettle any refugee who arrives on its shores by boat have all but stopped the boats from coming since the conservative government was elected in September 2013, Dutton said.
But the government still has to resettle more than 31,000 of the 52,000 asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat during the six years that the center-left Labor Party was in power.
"Labor created a massive mess when it comes to boats and it's going to take time and taxpayers' money, I'm sorry to say, to clean up Labor's mess," Dutton said.
As part of its efforts to deter boats of asylum seekers, Australia made the agreement with Cambodia last September despite critics worrying that Cambodia was too impoverished to handle the new residents and its poor human rights record would put them at risk.
Cambodia sent officials to Nauru to meet the four applicants and to make sure their move was legal and voluntary.
Associated Press writer Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report