The Federal Government’s plans to send asylum seekers found to be refugees, particularly vulnerable children, to be resettled in Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in Asia, raises tough questions that must be answered, says child rights organisation Plan International Australia.
The Cambodian government says the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, will sign an agreement in Phnom Penh tomorrow. The deal will see refugees resettled in Cambodia from Nauru.
“With the Cambodian government now signalling that an agreement with Australia on refugees is imminent, it’s time for some obvious questions to be answered,” says Ian Wishart, chief executive of Plan International Australia.
“Though reducing poverty remains a big issue in Cambodia, the Australian government will need to provide refugees being resettled in Cambodia with the sort of care, sustenance and support that a number of their new neighbours simply will not have. We can only imagine the resentment towards asylum seekers that will create,” he says.
“But if the government does not provide resettled refugees in Cambodia with that sustenance and support, then they are simply going to be dumping them into poverty, where their basic human rights will not be realised. Either way, this new plan cannot end well for the resettled refugees or for Cambodia. We are almost immediately going to create profound social problems.”
Plan International has been working in Cambodia for more than a decade, helping poor children to access their rights to education, health, sustainable livelihoods and protection. Plan’s work benefits more than 600,000 children and reaches nearly 80,000 families in more than 580 communities.
“We understand the challenges children face in Cambodia. We need the Australian government to explain what sort of child protection framework will be created for the very people who are the most vulnerable in all this, and that’s the kids,” Wishart says.
“We have already seen that the protection of children is inadequate in detention centres in Nauru. How will moving children to Cambodia improve their safety, their health or their wellbeing? These are all questions the government must answer urgently.”
“As a child-centred organisation, we want the Australian government to make it clear on how to assure that the asylum seekers can enjoy their basic standards of living that we would all expect for our children. Kids need a quality education, they need quality healthcare, they need to feel safe, and it remains questionable to see how they will get that,” he says.
”Australia has signed the refugee convention, so it just is not acceptable to shift our responsibilities to a neighbouring developing country where 40 per cent of children under five are chronically malnourished.”
Plan also notes the government’s plans to introduce Temporary Protection Visas. “There is evidence that TPVs can have negative impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of children and their families. It is not clear whether a new program of TPVs would allow refugees access to sufficient services.”
“The lack of provisions for family reunions may also hinder any right to a reasonable family life.”
Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world, founded 75 years ago, working in 50 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas and supported by 21 donor countries. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.
Media contact: Adam Cathro, Plan International Australia, Media Relations Manager, 0488 202 945