Cambodia has agreed “in principle” to accept asylum-seekers bound for Australia, an official says, despite controversy at the prospect of refugees being “dumped” in one of Asia’s poorest nations.
A senior Cambodian foreign ministry official said that no firm deal had been reached but that the kingdom was open to taking in migrants intercepted en route to Australia.
“In general, the government has agreed in principle,” Ouch Borith told reporters on Tuesday, adding that the Cambodian authorities were still studying the proposal.
“Agreeing in principle means that we are considering it and we will do it in accordance with international standards,” he said.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison made an unannounced visit to Cambodia earlier this month, raising speculation that Phnom Penh would join Papua New Guinea and Nauru in helping resettle asylum-seekers.
Canberra has adopted a hardline policy against asylum-seekers arriving on unauthorised boats as it seeks to control its maritime borders and prevent would-be refugees from drowning at sea.
Under the policy, boat-people have been sent to camps on remote Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island in the Pacific for processing and denied resettlement in Australia.
Visiting UN rights envoy Flavia Pansieri declined to comment on the tentative agreement after talks with Ouch Borith because the details were still unclear, but she offered a general pledge of assistance if needed.
“What we think is important is to note that Cambodia is well aware of its international commitment to human rights standards, keen to abide by them and to the extent there is any need for co-operation, we stand ready to provide support to ensure that standards are met,” she added.
Cambodia’s strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen is regularly accused of ignoring human rights and suppressing political dissent.