Cash for refugees shames both Australia and Cambodia


Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison

Cambodia's agreement with Australia to receive refugees from Nauru is moving to implementation, with Cambodian officials soon to visit Nauru. It has also been widely criticised, and refugees on Nauru have protested against it.

?The urgency with which the Australian Government has pursued the agreement is politically motivated. Many asylum seekers on Nauru have been found to be refugees. Nauru is in no position to accept them into the community, and is unwilling to hold indefinitely those found to be refugees. The PNG Government is likely to adopt the same stance. The difficulty for the Australian Government lies in its declaration that none will be resettled in Australia. Cambodia is the circuit breaker that will allow Australia to save face.

The agreement has attracted strong criticism, including from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees which refused to be a co-signatory. Critics have argued that it breaches Australia’s responsibility to provide protection for refugees. It is an exercise not of responsibility sharing for refugees but of burden shifting, from a wealthy to an impoverished nation. Australia’s commitment to the United Nations Convention, built on a universal respect for human dignity, has been betrayed. In its place has been placed a price setting mechanism for people whom nations want to dump elsewhere.

Many parallels have been adduced. It has been described as a return to the transportation policy by which Australia was first settled. It has been seen as the reverse of the common surrogacy agreement by which a poor Asian woman is paid to bear a child for a wealthier Australian woman. Here a poor Asian country agrees is paid to rear the abused children of wealthy Australia.

?The agreement itself does provide some benefits for refugees. But they are limited, falling short of full protection. And experience suggests that the promises made in them will not be expeditiously delivered.

?The positive features are that Cambodia will accept only refugees who go there voluntarily. They will be given recognition, and are guaranteed identity cards and residence certificates, have health insurance for five years, have been guaranteed freedom of movement and right to travel documents, be given a resettlement package, able to be reunited with families, and have a right to permanent resettlement.

?The limitations on these benefits, and so the threat to human dignity, come partly from Cambodian law dealing with resident aliens, partly from political considerations, and partly from the under resourcing of Cambodian administration. In employment, preference must be given to Cambodian applicants, and the number of Cambodians seeking employment is enormous.

The refugees will initially be housed in camps. The housing for refugees currently in Cambodia is in the community. It is not clear what process will be followed for those sent from Nauru.

?The protection against refoulement is less than watertight. Cambodia has already returned Uighurs to danger in China. And Australia is committed to help people return to their own nation or to other countries sounds ominous. The guarantee of freedom of movement is also fragile. Cambodian ministers have already ruled out residence in Phnom Penh.

?The limitations of Cambodian government also limit the guarantees. No process exists at present for receiving the vital residence cards, and no refugee has received one after five years waiting. Access to law is also limited.

?Together these provisions suggest that it will be difficult for refugees to enjoy the conditions for human flourishing while starting a new life in Cambodia. That is not Cambodia’s fault. It is a very poor country served poorly by an authoritarian and corrupt government. It is hard for Cambodians to find employment, especially after many who sought work in Thailand were recently returned to Cambodia. Its bureaucracy struggles to meet the demands of its own citizens and is not equipped to implement the provisions of the agreement.

?The uncertain future promised by the agreement is not in the interests of the people who sought protection from Australia. Since no more than a handful of refugees on Nauru are likely to go voluntarily to Cambodia, it cannot be the political circuit breaker the Government wants. And it is shameful both for the Governments of a wealthy nation like Australia and of an impoverished Cambodia to put their names to such a cash for people deal. 

?Neither prudence, decency nor expediency commends the Cambodian solution.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Image: Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison shake hands after signing the agreement.



Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Cambodia, asylum seekers, surrogacy, Morrison, Nauru



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Existing comments

Amongst many burdens, refugees are so often deprived of choice. Or, if they do have a choice, it is as the old saying goes, between a rock and a hard place. Politicians of both major parties are showing a callous disregard for refugees to attain some dignity and measure of control over their own destiny. Cambodia has 'accepted' Australia's plan, but it's a bit like big brother coercing little brother into doing his chores.

Pam | 22 October 2014  

Only one comment on such a cogently argued exposition of the callousness of the Cambodian solution. Are even ES readers starting to succumb to "refugee fatigue"?

Uncle Pat | 23 October 2014  

The greatest failure in dealing with Asylum seekers and other disadvantaged people, must be laid at the feet of Australia's politicians. They are supposed to be Leaders, inspiring us to try to achieve Ideal solutions to difficulties that could stunt our development. Instead they cravenly bow to the short-sighted self-interest of rapacious entrepreneurs, lest they lose their positions of power and entitlements. Worse still, they fan the flames of division and discontent whenever they perceive any political advantage to be gained. It is amazing how statesmanlike those same politicians can become once they retire from the rat-race. It seems an Advisory Body, made up of those with a proven track record of enlightened policies, is needed to publish and promote the universal welfare of all peoples.

Robert Liddy | 23 October 2014  

Perhaps Uncle Pat our spirit is finally broken.God grant us to offer this up for all of those whose spirit is being broken by 'our' government. Shame Australia shame...

margaret | 23 October 2014  

As usual we are led from a funny feeling of yuk to a well developed point of discussion and we thank AH for his leadership wisdom and courage. Outrage can be crippling without reasoning support. We are so ashamed.

Margaret Moore | 23 October 2014  

Thank you Andrew.I am disgusted and ashamed.There are so many atrocities happening in the world as usual, and defence /self protection/ self interests are the impulsive mainstay against these victims,treated worse than animals,'as 'invaders'..Economic wealth...???We are now so morally bankrupt I fear it is becoming acceptable.

Catherine | 23 October 2014  

Where is our sophisticated and civilised society?Selling/trading refugees..Human cargo,is not much different to Germany's 'civilised' attempt .

Catherine | 23 October 2014  

The sight of a grinning Scott Morrison at the signing of this shameful agreement between Australia and Cambodia, ought to turn many stomachs. It's patently clear that Morrison should be marched before the UNHCR to face charges of crimes against humanity. Inevitably, one is reminded of the Nuremberg trials. History has a strange way of repeating itself. Even the evil deeds of the past can be replicated in countries as decent as Australia. The similarities are so succinct.

Alex Njoo | 23 October 2014  

These asylum seekers came full of hope and will now be forced to vie with local people for jobs which are in less than short supply. Nothing about this will be an improvement for them, nor will their hopes be raised .....while Aust continues our comfortable lives..

Maureen | 23 October 2014  

This situation makes me deeply ashamed of our country, yet again. How can anyone think that it is appropriate to re-settle refugees in Cambodia? I despair.

Kate | 23 October 2014  

Well at least we don't have certain regular commenters trying to justify it.

Gavan | 23 October 2014  

Thank you for this information! I feel ashamed to be an Australian. These people are being treated inhumanly. They are continually I'm my prayers.

Sr Kathleen Moore | 23 October 2014  

Well done Andy I only wish our politicians and Australians could take on board your understanding and analysis.

Basil N Varghese | 23 October 2014  

Good point, Gavan. I should be pleased that defenders of the Cambodian solution have resisted disputing Andrew's exposition.

Uncle Pat | 23 October 2014  

Few asylum-seekers are likely to accept the government’s offer of being sent to Cambodia. Most will probably opt to be returned home or, perhaps to the country they embarked from. Their game plan was to get to Australia not end up in another Third World country like Cambodia. Being economic migrants, not genuine refugees, their prime worry would be facing their families back home after having wasted many tens of thousands of dollars on an aborted attempt get residency in Australia. Only those fleeing genuine persecution would chose Cambodia. For them, it would be better than returning home if they really are on a government hit-list. But then they too had already gained refuge in India, Malaysia or Indonesia before setting sail for Australia hadn’t they? Sri Lankan Tamils for example have been able to go to Tamil Nadu in India – before embarking from Pondicherry for Australia. Instead of agonising over the fate of such people why haven’t ES’s regular asylum-seeker correspondents (and the AS lobby) been calling for Australia’s refugee quota to be restored to 20,000 per year from 13,250, so that Australia can take far more GENUINE refugees rotting in refugee camps. They should also be pushing for another 5000 places specially to be set aside for women at risk in the Middle East. But perhaps it’s more emotionally satisfying to keep whacking the awful Abbot government than to pressure it to adopt achievable policies that would help people truly in need.

Dennis | 24 October 2014  

So Dennis, from that can I assume you supported the Gillard Government's Malaysia "solution" that was knocked out by the High Court, and that you were critical of the Opposition's opposition to every effort of the former Government to resettle refugees anywhere but here? Hmmm, I thought not. This goes beyond partisan politics and criticism of the Cambodia "solution" is well founded. I think we can be more generous and less cynical in our understanding of the pressures that motivate a person to become a refugee.

Brett | 24 October 2014  

Denis is at it again claiming refugees who come here are the only refugees in the world not worthy of our protection. When Morrison stopped assessments almost all those he said were not refugees were refugees and even on Nauru 80% of them are refugees on first hearings. For heavens' sake, there is no such thing as an ungenuine refugee, people are just refugees.

Marilyn | 24 October 2014  

Not so fast Brett! I didn’t support Gillard’s Malaysia solution. I saw it as a pathetic attempt to handle the fall-out from a disastrous asylum-seeker policy that should never have been re-introduced. Such a move was only justifiable if implemented with one that stopped the boats. This the Abbot government has now done. The Cambodia solution, complements this outcome, though is merely a cosmetic attempt to clean up to the mess of Labor’s AS policies. The Government knows that few asylum-seekers are likely to accept offers to settle in Cambodia, except the few fleeing genuine persecution. Asylum-seekers’ aim was to get residency in a nice prosperous democratic country like Australia, not end up in a place like Cambodia or PNG or Nauru. And I don’t blame them, considering the state of the countries they come from where racial and religious turmoil, political oppression and limited economic opportunities prevail. And I admire their courage in getting into small crowded leaky boats where they face a 2 per cent chance of drowning trying to get to Australia to gain a better life for themselves and their families. That and being prepared to also risk many of thousands of dollars, perhaps most of their own and their families’ savings, takes real guts. And on arrival one can understand why they would do and say whatever required to convince the authorities here that they were genuine refugees. Who wouldn’t after gambling so much? Despite this there are genuine refugees who need our help far more, whose circumstances are far more desperate than these intrepid though much less deserving people.

Dennis | 26 October 2014  

Marilyn: There are such people as “ungenuine” refugees. People lobbing in Australia and claiming they’re refugees doesn’t automatically mean they are. They could be lying. People do that all the time in life, especially if it’s something they really want. This includes those who desperately want to get into a free, peaceful and prosperous country like Australia which they may rightly perceive is a much better place to live than the poverty stricken violence-riven countries they come from. I refer you to former Labor Foreign Minister Carr’s comment that 90 per cent of asylum-seekers were economic migrants. Yes, I’m aware that about that percentage of asylum-seekers eventually get asylum in Australia. But is it because they are genuine refugees or merely for reasons of administrative convenience? Processing tens of thousands of asylum-seekers a year stretches Immigration Dept resources to the limit. There is only have time to weed out obvious criminals and terrorists. Rejecting and application means endless appeals to the High Court (which the asylum-seeker industry eagerly abets) , massively slowing down the processing of asylum-seeker claims. The easy way out for most Immigration officials is to simply approve most claims. This pleases their superiors as it prevents a huge backlog of claims building up. Google “’Frauds’ granted refugee status” in The Australian, June 15-16, 2013, if you’re interested.

Dennis | 27 October 2014  

Well said, Fr Andy. And most comments are right, too. I was not sure how it was possible to criticise this shabby deal without coming across as hostile to Cambodia. Andy's piece strikes the right and necessary balance. The deal is a fraud for people on Nauru. If I were one of them I would try to tough it out, whatever the present pain. Sooner or later Nauru will tell Australia enough is enough and Australia will be forced to accept back the people whom we put on Nauru and Manus, maybe initially under a TPV arrangement which leaves them free to work and live in the community here. Sanity and decency will return, but for those who have accepted the false promise of Cambodia it may be too late ever to reach Australia. If Marles moves Labour to declare acceptance of OSB navy tow backs to Indonesia as he is reported to be considering, there is no remaining argument of realpolitik not to accept the people from Manus and Nauru and end their misery. I predict a short political life for Morrison. He is even more loathed now - even by the many decent people in his own party - than the creepy Phillip Ruddock was. And that is saying something.

Tony Kevin | 27 October 2014  

I just hope that none of my familyfamily end up being refugees at some time in the future. The thought of any of them being treated the way our country treats refugees just fills me with despair. I struggle to understand how a government in which so many ministers proclaim there Christianity can treat people this way. We act like Pontus Pilot and forget the story of the good Samaritan. I feel ashamed.

john | 27 October 2014  

Human Trafficking Let's call it for what it is: human trafficking. Let's also expose the sham that motivates it. If the Australian Government wanted to stop illegal entry of asylum seekers by boat from Indonesia then why did it not arrange, with the Indonesian Government's permission, an office for processing applicants while on Indonesian soil? Then those who meet the UN criteria to be classified as refugees could be flown to Australia. Clearly the Australian Government is failing to accept its undertakings to the international community. Attempting to handball people who are genuine refugees is indeed shameful.

Ern Azzopardi | 30 October 2014  

The press release from the Refugee Action Coalition in Australia 16/10/2014 warns of the conditions the refugees, who are this nation’s responsibility, will meet: “The protest organizer, Mao Pises, Present of Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students (FedCIS) says, "We do not discriminate any refugees coming to live in Cambodia, but I'm afraid that they will not be able to live in a dignity because Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world; …. The Cambodian government doesn't take enough care of its own people, how can they take a good care of those refugees?" Eang Vuthy, Executive Director of Equitable Cambodia, points out, " We call upon the Australian Government to uphold its international obligation and respects the rights of refugees. We also call upon the two countries to consider this deal and ensure that adequate support and protection are provided these refugees." We have recently been named as the richest country in the world and we have a government front bench which loudly proclaims its love of “Judeo-Christian civilization.” We are fast moving into a place from which we may take decades to emerge

Bilal | 30 October 2014  

This is failed policy! -it fails human beings seeking freedom from oppression/ war. It fails the Australia state in many way. We cannot call ourselves world citizens as we operate so disgracefully . How far must we lower ourselves as a nation. We have turned our backs on human beings and now make overly make dirty deals. It will not be long before Australia is in the International criminal courts. Refugees turned away from our shores are not dying at sea but are when sent back/ sent elsewhere! This mindset must stop-listen to the protests

George | 31 October 2014  

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