Cambodia signs controversial deal to receive refugees from Australia

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia and Australia on Friday afternoon signed a controversial deal on refugee settlement even though there were protests against the deal.

The MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) was signed between Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sar Kheng, and Australia's Immigration Minister Scott Morrison who is in Cambodia for a two-day visit.

Senior Interior Minister official said that the agreement will allow refugees from Australia to live in Cambodia depending procedure of volunteering and in accordance with Refugee Convention.

The number of refugees to be sent will be confirmed by Cambodia, the official said, adding that Cambodia will not take in all 1,000 refugees.

A senior official quoted Interior Minister Sar Kheng as saying that the permission to let refugees settle in Cambodia is humanitarian activities to help them begin their new lives in Cambodia.

"Cambodia is a country member of 1951 Refugee Convention, and 1976 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees," he said.

"As member of Refugee Convention, Cambodia is showing its ability and will contribute to humanitarian activities. Through the MOU, Australia will use its experience and skill to help Cambodia expand support for providing residence to refugees in Cambodia," said A senior official of the ministry of interior quoted Scott Morrison as saying.

He said as part of commitment, Australia will be responsible for all expenses to transfer the refugees to Cambodia, and help Cambodia to have enough resource, and successfully integrate the refugees.

The Cambodian and Australian government agreed to work closely to ensure that the settlement of refugees will go smoothly and successfully.

Just hours before the deal was signed, many protestors rallied near the Australian Embassy against the signing of the MOU between Cambodia and Australia, which will pave the way for Cambodia to give shelter to refugees sent from Australia.

Phnom Penh's security force clashed with protestors who gathered near the Australian embassy over the settlement of refugees from Australia to Cambodia.

Two protesters were reportedly injured during the clash.