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Cambodia will put refugees at risk: academics

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison Photo: James Alcock

Dangerous political instability in Cambodia could put asylum seekers at grave risk, a leading academic has warned, as Immigration Minister Scott Morrison gave his strongest indication yet that refugees may be resettled there.

University of NSW emeritus professor Carl Thayer said he was shocked the government would consider the country as an option to resettle Australian-bound refugees. 

"Sending them to the authoritarian country with political instability is a bad idea," said Professor Thayer, who has worked extensively in the region and oversaw Cambodia's transition from the foreign intervention in the 1990s.

"I haven’t got a clue how ethnic backgrounds would be treated in Cambodia. This is a very unstable environment. If the [Cambodian] opposition decided to oppose it, then the refugees are at risk."

But Mr Morrison, who has yet to confirm whether any resettlement plan has been agreed to, warned the right for refugees to resettle was not about giving a "one-way ticket to a first-world economy".

"It is supposed to be to protect people from persecution now whatever country that may be in. That is the focus of protecting people from persecution, not providing a passageway to a first-world economy," he said.

Mr Morrison also dismissed suggestions Australia would be adding to Cambodia's burden, arguing countries in the region that wanted to provide safe havens for refugees would be doing so voluntarily.

Cambodia, a recipient of Australian government aid money and one of the poorest in the region, is in the midst of political turmoil. The country's opposition party has boycotted parliament since the July elections, alleging widespread vote rigging, and its leaders have been charged with inciting civil unrest. Four garment workers were killed in January when protesting for a living wage.

Political tensions have been brewing in the country since the national elections last July, according to the Asian Development Bank. 

On Monday, the government threatened legal action against opposition leader Sam Rainsy after he wrote to King Norodom Sihamoni last week criticising the King’s appraisal of parliament. The action could result in a year’s imprisonment.

with AAP 

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43 comments

  • 'Cambodia will put refugees at risk'. No skin off Abbott's nose. He couldn't care less about that.

    Commenter
    John
    Location
    Townsville
    Date and time
    April 08, 2014, 7:25AM
    • No doubt the illegals on Manus and Nauru would be very grateful for the opportunity to settle in PNG or Cambodia. After all that is what millions of our grand-grand fathers did when settling in Australia and America – came with nothing and thru the hard work built the countries as it is now.
      And with the skills and determination as displayed when crossing many countries and continents to sail to Australia these people are very well qualified to help the developing regions of the world in creating a better future.

      Commenter
      Ted
      Date and time
      April 08, 2014, 8:21AM
    • And why the concern for these people who spent their money on people smugglers. How about showing concern for Refugees in Syrian Camps for example. I am concerned about the billions spent on detaining and processing Asylum Seekers.

      Commenter
      Kingstondude
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      April 08, 2014, 8:28AM
    • No-one seems to care about the most needy refugees in overseas camps. We only seem to care about the ones who have traveled who overall are not the most needy. We should be doing more for those in camps near the countries of origin.

      Commenter
      Good Logic
      Date and time
      April 08, 2014, 8:38AM
    • Am not sure what "risk"? Went there on holidays and it was a really good place with wonderful people, history and countryside. I'd prefer it to PNG or Manus.

      Commenter
      krysia
      Date and time
      April 08, 2014, 9:18AM
    • @Good Logic - that's GREEN LOGIC for you! Worry about the cheats but ignore the truly needy. By the way, there are plenty of needy people right here in this country, but do you ever hear Milne or SHYoung sparing a thought for their "plight"?

      Commenter
      krysia
      Date and time
      April 08, 2014, 9:24AM
    • Greens/Labor put refugees at greater risk by encouraging dangerous sea journeys that claimed over 1000 lives including those of children. The government should be applauded for stopping the boats and these journeys, but of course those who use the platform of the misery and deaths of those who choose to pay people smugglers would lose their opportunity to espouse their hand wringing views.

      Commenter
      dexxter
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      April 08, 2014, 9:36AM
    • Thanks John. The posts under yours show no clear understanding of the issue - especially the ''I went there on holidays so it's okay'' mentality. Truly shocking.
      Who is this government to think that it has the right to determine whether people from other countries can or should settle in a first world or third world country?
      That the people of Australia allow this blatant ''judge and jury'' charade (to decide the fate of these people) is against all accepted human values. Australia truly has lost its moral compass.

      Commenter
      Jump
      Date and time
      April 08, 2014, 9:53AM
    • krysia, I'd say there might be a perceived difference between holidaying Westerners spending money in a third world country, and a Western nation dumping unwanted refugees into that country.

      Commenter
      Ross | Preston
      Date and time
      April 08, 2014, 10:00AM
    • I dispute UNSW emeritus professor Carl Thayer assessment of Cambodia as an unstable and authoritarian regime, although the fact Mr Thayer played a part in the West's failed plans for Cambodia in the 1990s gives his comments the air of an apologist still trying to sound relevant and effectual. Cambodians have elected Hun Sen leader every election since 1985 whom the West hates because he never offered himself as a puppet for the West, unlike in Thailand where they have had almost twenty prime ministers in the last twenty five years and at least three coups.

      Commenter
      AsherBlackPalm
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 08, 2014, 10:16AM

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