Outsourcing refugees: ‘How will I survive’ in Cambodia?
Why Australia’s controversial refugee resettlement deal with one of the world’s poorest countries is ‘a failure’.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia – For Mohammed Roshid, Australia was the land of his dreams. Having fled his village in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state, Roshid made his way to Indonesia and boarded a rickety boat, setting sail towards the country where he hoped he would find a better future.
But Roshid never made it to mainland Australia.
Instead, he now lives in Cambodia, an impoverished nation where some locals resort to begging to survive. Roshid is one of five refugees who voluntarily came to the Southeast Asian nation under a multimillion-dollar transfer deal with Australia.
Now, only two remain.
During a year-long investigation, Al Jazeera’s 101 East discovered that the other three refugees have returned to their home countries.
Roshid also wants to leave Cambodia, because “life in Cambodia is no good.” The other remaining refugee, an Iranian man, plans to return to his homeland, one of his relatives told Al Jazeera.
The Cambodian government admits the resettlement programme has been a failure.
“If you’re talking about the programme to help the refugees settle in Cambodia because of the money, it is a failure,” says Phay Siphan, a Cambodian government spokesman.
Australia’s ‘Cambodia solution’
Known for its tough border policy, Australia sends all asylum seekers who arrive at Australian shores to detention facilities on the Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
With refugees unable to remain there indefinitely, the Australian government struck a deal with Cambodia, which would accept any of the refugees who voluntarily chose to resettle there.
In exchange for accepting the refugees, Cambodia received $30m in aid money plus $12m to cover resettlement costs for an unspecified number of refugees.
Human rights organisations and activists have slammed the deal, with Amnesty International calling it “a new low in Australia’s deplorable and inhumane treatment of asylum seekers”.
But in a video shown to refugees, the Australian government says that the Southeast Asian nation provides “a wealth of opportunity for new settlers”.
“It is a fast-paced and vibrant country with a stable economy and varied employment opportunities,” Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton states in the video.
But Mouen Tola, a Cambodian activist and labour unionist, says that the Australian government did not paint an accurate picture of the reality of life in Cambodia.
“Millions of Cambodian people are still suffering from the system at the moment, so how come you lie to the people about employment opportunities, good opportunities and so on?”
Tola believes the aid money Australia is giving to Cambodia will not help Cambodians, a country ranked in the top 20 of the world’s most corrupt nations.
“Cambodia receives millions of dollars from the development partner but we don’t see where that money has been spent accountably or transparently. So personally I feel Australia is bribing Cambodia to accept those people,” says Tola.