By: Daniel Pye and Cheang Sokha
Australia will spend at least US$43.3 million to resettle a small number of refugees in Cambodia under an agreement signed in Phnom Penh last year, an official has said.
A Senate committee in Canberra was told yesterday that Australia would stump up A$15.5 million ($12 million) on top of an original pledge of A$40 million ($31 million) in aid to Cambodia.
The “[A]$15.5 million is for services to support the settlement of refugees in Cambodia, including health, education and training services. It is in addition to the [A]$40 million previously announced,” a spokesman for Australia’s Immigration Department said yesterday.
The money will go directly towards paying for services for the refugees, while the additional aid money will be transferred in instalments as and when refugees arrive over the coming years.
Only four refugees formerly detained on the Pacific island of Nauru, where Australia contracts a private security firm to run a detention centre, have so far accepted resettlement under the scheme.
The four – three Iranians and an ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar – have been housed at an Australian immigration facility near Darwin airport after being secretly flown to the northern Australian city earlier this month.
A spokesman for the Australian Taxpayers Alliance declined to comment on the use of public funds for resettlement as he had not previously been made aware of the quoted figure given yesterday to the Senate committee.
In its recently announced annual budget, Australia revealed it would cut aid to many of Cambodia’s neighbours, while leaving the Kingdom’s budget largely intact.
Australian immigration officials did not respond yesterday to a question about the expected transfer date for the four refugees to Cambodia.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, and Kerm Sarin, director of the ministry’s Refugee Department, said they were unaware of any imminent plans to move the group.
An Iranian refugee still on Nauru said recent assaults on the community, particularly a brutal sexual assault on a young woman last week, were adding to their distress, as many remained unwilling to move to Cambodia, a country they viewed as corrupt and impoverished.
“As a teenage girl, I don’t want anything but my freedom. I want to walk in the street and see shopping, buildings, crowds. I want to see my sister and my niece. This is too much that I want? I’m tired of pretending that I’m ok. I have too much pain in my heart and I can’t handle it anymore,” she said.