An extra post today, on a story that hasn’t made the news in a big way, but one that I just can’t get over. The Australian government has made an agreement with the Cambodian government to resettle refugees in Cambodia. These refugees are people who arrived in Australian waters by boat, were detained, and then found to have a genuine claim to asylum. Instead of being allowed to enter Australia, because they arrived by boat they are being sent to Cambodia. Let’s take a look at Cambodia.
Firstly, I have nothing against Cambodia. I spent some time there while backpacking, and loved it. It’s a great country with amazingly friendly and open people. However – it is a Third World country. It is poor, with one of the lowest annual incomes in the world. It is corrupt, ranked 15th worst in the world. It lacks freedom and struggles to feed its own population, being ranked as one of the worst in the world for HDI and hunger. Unemployment is high and many young Cambodians struggle to find jobs. Less than 40 years ago it suffered one of the worst genocides in history, one that was preceded and followed by years of horrific war. The country still bears the scars – on the landscape and on the culture – today.
It’s also a country that’s not known for treating refugees well. They have deported refugees numerous times, including Uighurs from China who were being protected by the UN’s refugee agency. Refugees are not wanted by the majority of the population either. The decision has been greeted with protests in Cambodia by people who don’t want even more competition for meagre resources and jobs. Note that this is the same argument some Australians will make – from a country 42 times larger and 16 times richer than Cambodia. Guess in which of these countries I’ve seen the bumper sticker “F**k off, we’re full”.
Australia will be responsible for the cost of health insurance that is “commensurate” with local community standards for five years. Most Cambodians do not have health insurance. (Lindsay Murdoch, SMH)
To sweeten the deal for the Cambodia government, Australia will pay them 40 million US dollars, on top of resettlement costs. In what is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, where exactly does the Australian government think this 40 million is going to go? It’s unlikely it will do much to benefit the people of the country who never agreed to the deal in the first place. To make the deal even dirtier, it has been carried out in secrecy with no room for debate.
UNICEF, Amnesty International and other groups have labelled the deal “inappropriate, immoral, and likely illegal” – and that describes it perfectly. As an Australian I am deeply ashamed that my country is doing this. It enrages me that no vote I cast can change this – as the opposition Labor party made similar plans. But that isn’t surprising when 60% of Australians polled said that they wanted refugees treated more harshly. We are one of the world’s richest countries handing some of the world’s most vulnerable people to one of the world’s poorest nations.
Oh, the refugees don’t have to go to Cambodia though – they could also remain in their detention camps on the tiny, hot, barren and bankrupt Pacific island of Nauru. They’ll be glad to hear it.
For more on Australia’s asylum seekers policy, see this post from earlier this year.