This post is an open response to the refugee resettlement deal signed between authorities in Australia and their counterparts in Cambodia [aka Cambogia, as it is called in the sub-region]. The objective of this post is to create awareness of the logical reasoning behind such deals, the conventionality that it contradicts, and the preparedness of the Cambodian authorities to provide ‘all’ the legal assistance without discrimination to resettled refugees that may consider Cambodia as their choice for resettlement.
I am a big fan of Australia. In fact my wife’s sister married an Australian and her husband is well informed of all aspects across the social and political divide. They have visited countries in Africa, lived in South America, North America, and not to mention Southeast Asia. Australia is one of the developed countries, but has its own challenges like other developed countries on matters of migration, illegal immigrants, refugees/asylum seekers, economy, etc. I appreciate the Tony Abbot’s government willingness to resettle ‘rejected refugees’ to a third country, given that, repatriation and integration are exhausted, confusingly, they weren’t even refugees.
Well, the choice of Cambodia as a prospective resettlement country contradicts everything we know about resettlement, even if, prospective refugees chose Cambodia as their ‘optimal choice’ for resettlement. Below are some logical reasons why the Aussie-Cambodia long-term resettlement deal is a no go for refugee, asylees, and stateless people and a public showoff to cover up their mess?
1. The legal legislative mechanism not well-defined
Most countries in Southeast Asia lacks a rigorous legislative legal mechanism for refugees and asylum seekers determination and UNHCR currently operates under a pseudo-administrative scheme that in some cases function in total absence of a national asylum/refugee legal framework (http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e487c66.html. paragraph 1). Cambodia is still developing its national legal framework for refugees and asylum seekers and that needs to be well defined and the necessary legal, political, social, and financial systems put in place to support it. Most of these are still lacking or non-existent and the deal demonstrates no reference to such.
2. Fragile Protective Spaces
The protection spaces for refugees, asylum seekers, mixed migrants, and other forms of migrations are not well-defined and protective spaces are not secure because legal refugee and asylum protection frameworks are still on the drawing board. If that is the case, how could they provide the legal protection for the resettlement of refugees, a process that could mean a life choice determination and destination for some of those currently rejected by the Australian immigration authorities?
3. Human Right Abuses
Cambodia and several countries in the region are still recovering from long periods of civil unrest, civil wars, political upheavals, and instabilities that could not have resulted from their own making, or at least exclusively. However, the continuous use of forced detention of refugees, asylum seekers, forced migrants, displaced workers, and stateless people without due process, which subsequently leads to exploitations and abuses most especially women, children and those that are disable should ring a loud bell to reconsider this pathetic deal or make sure that these aspects are considered thoroughly.
4. Does Cambodia has the capacity to take in refugees or asylum seekers?
The answer could be yes as well as a legitimate no. However, this is the iron clay question and this question rings from the top to the bottom of the so-called deal between Australia and Cambodia. The very fact that Cambodia is only willing to pilot test its capacity with only admitting between 2-5 prospective refugees resonate their incapacity to take in refugees on the resettlement scale and their readiness to provide all the legal assistance that would facilitate such transition and if possible permanency. At face value, Cambodia is not ready and refugee admittance should not be considered as if you are driving an ‘object’ project with materialistic gains. These are human beings!
5. Social Services
I am not clear what are Cambodia’s current capacity to provide vigorous line of social services to prospective incoming refugees. The deal does not outlined any plan on what kind of social services are currently available from the Cambodian’s camp to be benefited by prospective resettled refugees. This point was left vague in the deal and illustrates that the Cambodia refugee office has a lot that needs to be worked on.
6. Cambodia’s Returnees
The country of still reintegrating returnees after the end of the Cambodian wars, which took place between the Cambodian government and resistance forces. In 1998 both sides signed the peace settlement deal, which brought an end to the brutal civil war. As much as 47,000 Cambodian returnees were repatriated from Thailand at the close of 1999. These folks are still settling their lives as the process of reintegration takes decades, if not, forever. Do you or can you take in more?
7. Whose choice [to be resettled] is it?
This question would be asked similarly by one of my professors at Clark University, that the decision of being resettled to a third country is a product of who choice? Who makes the final call? The current host government? UNHCR? International resettlement organizations? The resettlement country? The refugee? Under this deal, the answer to some of these question is clear. Cambodia and Australia!! Well, though they mentioned that the choice to be resettled will depend on the ‘rejected refugee applicant’, it is unclear how a reject refugee/asylum applicant will make a choice given that, under Australian refugee law, they are not yet refugees/asylees since their applications were rejected. They are more likely stateless people than refugees. Under such arrangements, and given that they were already denied refugee/asylum status in Australia, their choices are at the mercy of both bodies in the deal. How would their so-call refugee resettlement status be processed to be relocated to Cambodia, since by fact, they are not yet refugees, they are denied refugee status? Under what international law would their refugee case be processed in order to benefit from their choice to be resettled in Cambodia? These and many other points resonate that this deal is a public showoff to gain international attention and has no interest whatsoever in the desperate lives of those who are the true victims—the refugees, asylees, detainees, etc.