Australian human rights advocate fears for refugees on Nauru
A human rights advocate fears some asylum seekers on Nauru will agree to be resettled in Cambodia out of desperation.
An Australian human rights advocate says he fears some asylum seekers on Nauru will agree to be resettled in Cambodia out of desperation.
Cambodian government officials are expected to travel to Nauru this month to tell refugees what life would be like in Cambodia, after Cambodia signed a resettlement deal with Australia.
But the director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre in Australia, Daniel Webb, says he has no confidence that the officials' advice will be objective.
He told Amelia Langford that the refugees are trapped in a terrible situation and have no true choices.
DANIEL WEBB:The Australian Government has signed a deal with the Cambodian Government for the transfer of refugees from Australia's detention centre on Nauru to Cambodia. Now that deal does not say how many refugees are going to be transferred nor does it say how much Australia is going to pay Cambodia for the privilege of offloading its refugees there so basically you have got a deal that involves a blank cheque to one of the most corrupt governments in the world for a wealthy developed democracy to offload its refugees there without any specification of the number of refugees that will be involved.
AMELIA LANGFORD: And there have been suggestions it is voluntary for the refugees to go to Cambodia. How would that work in practice?
DW: Well, I mean, voluntary is a bit of a dangerous concept in this kind of context because people are currently languishing indefinitely in detention on Nauru in conditions that the United Nations Refugee Agency have assessed as being inhumane and as breaching human rights standards. So officials from the Cambodian Government are going to go to Nauru and speak to people who are languishing in those conditions and ask them if they want to voluntarily go to Cambodia and so when people are stuck between a rock and a hard place like that you can hardly characterise them choosing the hard place as a voluntary decision.
AL: Do you think they will be provided with all the information they need to make an educated or informed choice about the country and going there? Chose again being the operative word.
DW: I think that is a very real risk. I mean, the UN Refugee Agency and Amnesty International have both consistently commented that the environment in detention on Nauru is return-orientated so it is deliberately harsh so people are pressured to give up and return home and now the effect of those harsh conditions might be that it will pressure people to accept a resettlement deal in Cambodia that really I don't think is going to give them the certainty, the safety and the security that they need and they deserve in order to be able to move on with their lives.
AL: So what do you think should be done here instead?
DW: Well, look, what we know is that there are more refugees in the world now than there have been at any time since the end of the second world war. So we are at a time of unprecedented, global need when it comes to refugee protection. What this deal represents is a wealthy, developed nation that hosts less than 0.3 percent of the world's refugees shifting responsibility to an impoverished nation with an appalling human rights record. And rather than shifting responsibility Australia needs to share it. We need to be increasing our humanitarian intake, protecting people who have arrived in Australia and proved that they need our protection and also work with other countries in our region, particularly transit countries like Indonesia and Malaysia to address the underlying absence of safe protection pathways which leads to people getting on boats in the first place.
AL:Why has Australia chosen Cambodia? One of the poorest countries in Asia?
DW: A few reasons. I think, one, because Cambodia said yes. And two, the government's intention in resettling refugees to Cambodia is the same as when it locks people up indefinitely on the remote islands of Manus and Nauru - and that is deterrence. It will be incredibly difficult for refugees Australia sends to Cambodia and that is precisely the point. The Government aims to treat refugees who arrive in a way that warns off others thinking of coming. Resettlement in Cambodia is just the newest tactic in a long-running battle to frighten asylum seekers away from seeking Australia's protection.
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