PHNOM PENH (Xinhua) – Cambodia and Australia have reiterated their commitment to comply with a refugee agreement they signed last month, despite persistent criticism from human rights groups and opposition parties of the two countries, a senior official said on Sunday.
The commitment was made during a meeting on Friday between Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe summit in Italy, Kao Kim Hourn, minister attached to Hun Sen in charge of foreign affairs, said.
“At the meeting, both sides agreed to implement the agreement that the two countries signed last month,” he told a press conference at Phnom Penh International Airport after returning from Italy.
The official said Cambodia is a signatory to the 1951 Refugees Convention and 1967 Protocol related to Refugees, so it is an international obligation for the country to take in asylum seekers.
“Cambodia will accept refugees from Australia based on a voluntary principle,” he said.
Australia and Cambodia inked the refugee deal on Sept 26, under which Canberra will send refugees, who intend to seek asylum in Australia and are being held in an offshore detention camp in the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru, to resettle in Cambodia.
The deal has drawn criticism from human rights groups and opposition parties in both countries. They claimed Cambodia is not rich enough to take in Australia’s refugees and accused Canberra of shirking its human rights responsibilities to other poorer and under-resourced nations.
On Friday, more than 100 Cambodian human rights activists, youths and Buddhist monks marched in Phnom Penh in the latest round of protests against the deal.
Long Visalo, Cambodian Foreign Secretary of State, said last month that a small group of the refugees could be resettled in Cambodia by the end of this year or early next year.
Under the offshore processing scheme, which Australia says is aimed at deterring people-smugglers, any asylum-seeker arriving by boat or intercepted at sea is transferred to detention centres in Manus island of Papua New Guinea or Nauru for processing.
If their asylum claims were approved, they would only be allowed to settle outside Australia.