A Sri Lankan is among three refugees detained by Australia on the Pacific island of Nauru who have volunteered to be the next refugees resettled in Cambodia as part of a controversial A$55-million deal signed just over two years ago.
A key source familiar with the situation told Anadolu Agency that the three men — singles from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan — had put themselves forward and that the process had begun to establish if they would be granted clearance.
Efforts to confirm this with the Connect Settlement Agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Australian Embassy were unsuccessful on Thursday. Multiple calls to refugee department spokesman Kerm Sarin were also unsuccessful.
On Friday, the Phnom Penh Post quoted immigration chief Gen. Sok Phal as saying that a delegation to Nauru had interviewed three men, and that paperwork had been submitted.
If given clearance, the three would follow in the footsteps of five people who also volunteered. All but one has since left Cambodia.
Phal referred questions to refugee chief Tan Sovichea, who could not be reached Friday.
In an email to Anadolu Agency on Friday morning, Australia’s department of immigration and border protection said it “does not comment on individuals’ circumstances”.
“Refugees in Nauru continue to have the option of volunteering for settlement in Cambodia,” the email said. “The Department continues to work with the Cambodian Government to ensure the successful implementation of the settlement arrangement.”
The deal was inked in September 2014 at an initial cost of A$40 million ($30.5 million) in aid to Cambodia from Australian coffers. An additional A$15.5 million was later tacked on to cover transport and other logistical costs.
But the lack of interest in the resettlement offer — even from those suffering a litany of abuses exposed in the Nauru detention camps — coupled with the departure of four of the refugees who have taken it up, has spoken volumes about the deal’s failings.
Upon their arrival in June last year, a Rohingya man, an Iranian couple and another Iranian male were whisked off to a secluded villa where a team from the IOM began an integration program that included tours of Phnom Penh, language lessons and assistance with finding work.
The Rohingya was the first to leave, a few months after his arrival, followed by the Iranian couple earlier this year. The Iranian man left after them.
Another Rohingya man who arrived separately is still in Cambodia, but has spoken of the misery of eking out a life in Phnom Penh.