Refugee arrives in Cambodia from Pacific island

Nauru, the world’s smallest republic, is home to hundreds of refugees who hoped to reach Australia. Source: Wikimedia

A fifth refugee from the Pacific island of Nauru in Micronesia has been secretly moved to Cambodia, arriving through Canberra’s controversial US$55m deal with the southeast Asian nation to home asylum seekers who attempted to reach Australia.

The man, reportedly an ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar, arrived in Phnom Penh as a political crisis grips Cambodia, and the UN warned the country was reaching “a dangerous tipping point”.

He is the fifth refugee to be resettled under Australia’s deal with Cambodia, which was agreed in 2014.

“I can tell you a male arrived last week, and he’ll be part of the cultural orientation programme that we have been running up to now,” said Joe Lowry of the International Organisation for Migration, which oversees the resettlements.

Last month, Phnom Penh’s interior minister, Sar Kheng, said two Rohingya men had asked to move to Cambodia. The government then began processing the paperwork.

The Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State, face severe and systemic persecution in their homeland and are often labelled “Bengali” to imply they belong in neighbouring Bangladesh.

They are denied basic rights of movement and were refused participation in the November 8 election in Myanmar.

Only five of hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers on remote Nauru have agreed to give up their hopes of reaching Australia and take a one-way ticket to one of Asia’s poorest nations.
Australia’s deal with Cambodia has come under fire, principally because of Phnom Penh’s poor human rights record and less-than impressive record of sheltering refugees.

Australia offered Cambodia US$40m in aid to sign the deal and has paid US$15m in resettlement costs for the five people.

Four refugees arrived in Phnom Penh in June but one Myanmar man in his 20s allegedly was unhappy in Cambodia and asked to return home, apparently for family reasons.

Three Iranians in the group, who were housed in a large Phnom Penh villa, have since moved to other housing in the city.

Lowry said one had been offered work but turned it down.

The International Organisation for Migration manages the integration of the refugees, providing help with housing, food, language and social orientation.

They arrive in a country in turmoil.

Last month two opposition MPs were dragged from vehicles outside parliament and savagely kicked and punched.

The regime of strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen has revived a seven-year-old defamation case against opposition leader Sam Rainsy, inflaming tensions.

From exile, Sam Rainsy accuses Hun Sen of trying to destroy all political opposition.

The United Nations human rights rapporteur for Cambodia Rhona Smith said rights abuses were rising, including “incidents of violence, intimidation of individuals, and resort to offensive language in the political discourse”.

“Any intensification of current events could bring Cambodia to a dangerous tipping point,” she said.

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