Matthew Knott, Sydney Morning Herald, May 20, 2014
The bona fides of any refugee in offshore detention who rejects resettlement in Cambodia should be questioned, according to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.
Mr Morrison also rejected claims by Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy that money given to the country to take refugees would encourage corruption.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has denied the Cambodia deal contradicts his opposition to the Gillard government’s Malaysia Solution despite strong comments at the time about Malaysia’s human rights record.
The Immigration Minister said a deal had yet to be concluded with the impoverished South-East Asian nation to take refugees from offshore centre on Nauru, despite Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen confirming on Facebook yesterday that his country would accept refugees who voluntarily chose to move there.
“Resettlement is a voluntary process. But it does raise an interesting question though. If someone who says they are persecuted is offered a safe country where they can go and that country is not to their economic liking then I think that does raise questions about the claim,” Mr Morrison told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
“Resettlement is about freedom from persecution; it’s not a ticket to a first-class economy.”
Asked what would be the fate of those who refused to move, he said: “They will stay on Nauru but they won’t be coming to Australia.”
Mr Morrison said it was up to Nauru whether it reassessed the claims of refugees who refused resettlement.
Refugee advocates have predicted many refugees on Nauru will refuse to resettle in Cambodia, opting to hold out in the hope there is a policy change and they will eventually be able to get to Australia.
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young has branded Cambodia ”a fundamentally unacceptable place for Australia to dump its refugees” and says the party will attempt to block any attempt to send refugees there.
Mr Abbott was asked on Tuesday about how he could support the Cambodia resettlement deal when he had said Malaysia’s human rights record was a barrier to his support for a people swap deal in 2011.
The Prime Minister said his opposition to that plan had only been due to the fact Malaysia wasn’t a signatory to the UN convention on human rights.
“The last think I want to do is be critical of Malyasia. I wasn’t critical of Malaysia at the time. I’m not going to be critical of Malaysia now because we are working closely with Malaysia on a whole range of matters buy particularly on the search for ill-fated flight MH370.”
However, in 2011 Mr Abbott made strong comments against the Gillard government’s people swap deal with Malaysia.
”What decent government would send boat people to a country where they could be exposed to caning? Malaysia is a friend of Australia, but their standards are not our standards – and it is very wrong of Australia to send people who have come into our care, however briefly, to a country whose standards are so different from ours,” he said.
Mr Morrison declined to say how much money Australia would provide Cambodia to resettle refugees. But he acknowledged: “There is a very positive understanding between both countries.”
Cambodia’s opposition leader Sam Rainsy said a refugee deal would encourage corruption.
“Any money, especially from any foreign source, would be diverted [and] channelled into the pocket of our corrupt leaders, with very little, if any benefit to the ordinary people,” he said.
“I think it would be a disgrace. A rich, powerful and respected country such as Australia must face its responsibility dealing with this humanitarian problem; it must not export or outsource.
“Cambodia is not prepared, is not equipped to receive any refugee, to settle any person in need.”
But Mr Morrison rejected Mr Rainsy’s claims, saying Australia had the experience and resources to ensure appropriate resettlement of refugees in a poorer nation.
”We’re not in the business of lining the pockets of officials,” he said.