First 4 refugees rejected by Australia arrive in Cambodia

AP News
Posted: Jun 04, 2015 12:56 AM

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Four asylum seekers rejected by Australia arrived Thursday in Cambodia, becoming the first to leave the Pacific island nation of Nauru under a deal that allows refugees turned away by Australia to be resettled in the Southeast Asian country.

Cambodia agreed to accept the four under a 40 million Australian dollar ($32 million) four-year agreement it made with Australia last year to resettle asylum seekers held in an Australia-run detention center on Nauru. Many of the 677 asylum seekers on Nauru have been there for almost two years.

Australian officials have said they were working with the International Organization for Migration and other groups in Cambodia to provide the four — two Iranian men, an Iranian woman and a Rohingya man from Myanmar — with housing, jobs, transport and education.

It was not immediately clear where in Cambodia they would live. Journalists were barred from entering the airport's VIP terminal, where officials from the Australian Embassy and the IOM waited for the group to land.

Airport security official Chey Tola and police officials who declined to be named confirmed the arrival of the four, saying they were driven away in a van.

The four were the only ones on Nauru known to have applied for Cambodian residency. The Southeast Asian country is not a place the world's refugees typically dream of living.

Cambodia is plagued by poverty, corruption and human rights abuses. Medical care outside main cities is almost nonexistent and where jobs are so scarce that more than 800,000 people have left to find work abroad.

Australian officials have faced strong criticism at home for the steep cost to Australian taxpayers of the agreement that has so far attracted little interest from refugees on Nauru.

Australia's tough policies of turning back asylum-seeker boats to Indonesia and refusing to resettle any refugee who arrives on its shores by boat have but stopped the boats from coming since the conservative government was elected in September 2013, according to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

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 Labor Party was in power.

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 and to make sure their moves were voluntary.