Will Cambodia also be a fiasco?

The Cambodian Daily newspaper last week expressed the mounting criticism on all sides against the Australian government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Cambodia. A deal is held imminent between the two countries, first proposing some asylum seekers detained on Nauru be transferred there. The Cambodian government insists such transfers be voluntary – any applicant must sign a consent form. This sounds considerate towards the newcomers, but once they sign it may also mean permanent commitment to accept whatever provisions await them.

If the situation for the 68 asylum seeker detainees already in Cambodia is any guide, newcomers will be denied an all-important work permit. These 68 are also refused the right to move to any other land and struggle to access education and healthcare.

Gareth Evans, on behalf of the UN, finally forged the agreement that formed the Cambodian government after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge. Evans has pointed out recently that Hun Sen, the country’s Prime Minister, revoked the UN agreement’s democratic terms soon after its implementation and effectively assumed rule as a dictator. Is there any more chance he would honour this asylum-seeker deal in the future?

The patent fact that Cambodia’s population is abjectly poor and incapable of providing for any more people is at the heart of general opposition to Australia’s plan. If some of the locals express antipathy towards the newcomers, as happened on Manus Island, might it all end up as a similar fiasco?

Helen Wiles, CLA member, Narrabundah ACT

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