Refugee resettled in Cambodia under Australia deal 'wants to go home'

Refugee resettled in Cambodia under Australia deal 'wants to go home'
Women ride a motorcycle past a house that is used to temporarily house asylum seekers sent from a South Pacific detention centre, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia August 31, 2015.
PHOTO: Reuters

PHNOM PENH - A Myanmar Rohingya refugee recently resettled in Cambodia in a controversial and lucrative deal with Australia wants to go home, a Cambodian official said Monday.

Under Canberra's hardline immigration policy, asylum-seekers who arrive by boat are denied resettlement in Australia and sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru, even if they are genuine refugees.

In a deal that was condemned by rights groups and the UN, Cambodia agreed to take in Australia's unwanted refugees in exchange for millions of dollars of aid over the next four years.

Only those who volunteer are resettled.

Cambodia received its first batch of Nauru-held refugees - three Iranians and one ethnic Rohingya man from Myanmar - in early June.

But the Rohingya, a 25-year-old man, wants to return to Myanmar because of "homesickness," General Khieu Sopheak, the spokesman for the Cambodian interior ministry, told AFP.

"We are not opposing this. After resettling here in Cambodia, he has been meeting with the Burmese (Myanmar) embassy. We received the news from the Burmese embassy that the man wants to go back home," he said, adding that his father visited the man recently.

He said the Myanmar embassy in Phnom Penh had sent letters to the Cambodian foreign ministry and Australian immigration authorities to seek their view on the Rohingya's wish to return.

"In principle, we have no objection to (his return to Myanmar)," Khieu Sopheak said.

He added that the man, who was born in 1990, is now "waiting for travelling documents from the Burmese embassy; then we will let him go".

After the four refugees arrived in Cambodia in June, they were whisked away to a new life at an undisclosed location with the help of the International Organization for Migration which is tasked with helping them settle in.

The media have not yet been allowed to meet or interview the four refugees.

The IOM said it was unable to comment on the case "due to the refugee's request for privacy and our own confidentiality rules." Refugee advocates say asylum-seekers heading for Australia do not generally want to be sent to Cambodia, a country that has been criticised for its own record of helping refugees, particularly Vietnamese Montagnards who are often deported.

Conditions on Nauru and Papua New Guinea have also been heavily criticised.

Khieu Sopheak said the Rohingya man's desire to return to Myanmar would not affect the deal with Australia.

"The agreement is still valid, we will continue to take in more refugees. But for now we have to wait until the other three refugees integrate into Cambodian society before we are going to accept more refugees," he added.

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