SYDNEY: Australia said Tuesday it is seeking new countries to resettle refugees in after confirming only four people have moved to Cambodia, which has agreed to accept refugees in exchange for aid.
Under a hardline policy in place for several years, Canberra has denied asylum-seekers arriving on unauthorized boats resettlement in Australia, sending them instead to the small Pacific nation of Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
Those on Manus can resettle in Papua New Guinea and those on Nauru have the option of starting new lives in Cambodia, but only four people have opted to do this.
Cambodia has agreed to take in Australia’s unwanted refugees in exchange for millions of dollars in aid over the next four years, in a deal condemned by rights groups and the United Nations.
“We’re working — and have been for a long period of time — working on other bilateral options,” Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told national broadcaster ABC.
He did not specify which countries were being considered.
Dutton said Cambodia was being undermined as a prospect by refugee advocates who were urging detainees to hold out for resettlement in Australia.
“We have Cambodia available as an option and it is difficult when we’ve got probably well-intentioned refugee advocates back here who are messaging up to these people on Nauru, saying ‘don’t accept any offer’,” Dutton said.
Nauru said Monday it would make its detention camp an “open center,” allowing detainees full freedom of movement within the country of 10,000.
It is holding more than 600 asylum-seekers whose applications have not been finalized and on Monday promised to process all claims within a week.
Refugee advocates, who allege rape and other abuses have occurred on Nauru, welcomed the announcement but said it failed to resolve problems caused by holding people indefinitely on a tiny island.
Amnesty International said it hoped that Nauru’s decision would begin to reduce stress and abuse on asylum-seekers who are being kept at an Australian-funded detention facility.
But it said the future of refugees temporarily relocated to Nauru remained in doubt.
“Granted only a five-year protection visa by the Nauruan authorities, and with no assistance provided in finding a safe home in another country, refugees on Nauru have no idea what their future holds,” Amnesty said in a statement.
The rights group added if serious safety and health concerns about asylum-seekers and refugees on Nauru remained, the center should be permanently closed and all those affected relocated to Australia.