Friends in need: Julie Bishop meets Hor Nam Hong. Photo: Reuters
The Australian government has asked Cambodia to accept refugees seeking asylum in a move similar to the former Labor government's so-called ''Malaysian solution''.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong said the request was made on Saturday morning during a meeting between his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop and the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
''In the past, there have been Cambodians going out as refugees to different countries. Now perhaps it is time for Cambodia to receive refugees back to Cambodia,'' Mr Hor Nam Hong told journalists after a press briefing, adding the number of refugees had not been decided but this would depend on Australia.
''There are now thousands of refugees seeking asylum in Australia. And Australia would like to see Cambodia accept some refugees to be settled in Cambodia,'' he said.
He said Cambodia had changed vastly since decades of war ended in the late 1990s.
''But my Prime Minister and myself this morning have told Australia that Cambodia will consider very seriously the request of Australia because before there were many Cambodians seeking asylum outside of Cambodia through the war but now maybe it is the time for Cambodia to accept some of the foreign refugees in Cambodia.''
He noted Australia's contribution to bringing peace to Cambodia after years of civil war and the deaths of about 1.7 million people during the Khmer Rouge's rule in the 1970s.
Australia was one of the countries that has recognised the Cambodian government's win at elections in July last year. Opposition parties have disputed the result, claiming widespread voter irregularities and fraud.
Ms Bishop, who is on a tour of south-east Asian nations, declined to take questions on the subject but noted Cambodia had contributed to the Bali Process on transnational crime, which encompassed people smuggling.
In a later statement on her Cambodia visit, the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh said the foreign ministers discussed Cambodia's economic growth as well as the challenges to the region of people smuggling and drug trafficking, including ''our close co-operation under the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime''.
''There has been a significant level of co-operation between relevant agencies on people smuggling matters, and [we] will continue to work through the Bali Process to manage processing of illegal maritime arrivals and returns,'' the statement said.
Cambodia is one of Asia's poorest countries and is dependent on hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid. Australia sent $244 million to Cambodia over the past three years. A further $85 million has been pledged for 2013 to 2014.
Human rights groups say Cambodia has one of the worst human rights records in Asia.
Mr Hun Sen, a former cadre of the murderous Khmer Rouge, has faced months of anti-government protests following the disputed elections.
When they were in opposition, Coalition MPs were strongly critical of Labor's attempt to send asylum seekers to Malaysia in 2011.