Australia's refugee non-solution

Sr Denise Coghlan RSM

An Abbott Government proposal to settle up to 1000 asylum seekers in Cambodia is no solution to the refugee problem at all, writes Sr Denise Coghlan RSM for ucan.com. 

Cambodia can barely handle its own refugee program, let alone someone else's.

World Refugee Day on Friday was an appropriate moment to reflect on one particular refugee issue. Cambodia is a country that is battling on several fronts, against poverty, displacement, unemployment and corruption. At the same time, it is still rebuilding after decades of crippling war. Yet it is now being asked by Australia to become a repository for refugees; a task it is historically ill equipped to handle.

Since Cambodia signed the Refugee Convention in 1992, more than 2,000 cases - approximately 5,000 people - have asked for its protection. These people came from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Rwanda, China, Somalia, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Vietnam, Myanmar, Congo and Palestine, as well as some stateless Rohingyas.

Any trouble spot during the past 20 years that caused major refugee flows meant some people arrived in Cambodia. Of those 5,000 who have been through the system, only 68 remain in Cambodia. More than half have been resettled, others ran away, some voluntarily returned home and others were deported.

Since the mid-1990s, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has helped prepare briefs and offered social assistance and income generating possibilities, while working with UNHCR – the United Nations High Commission for Refugees – to help with resettlement.

JRS Cambodia also assists where it can with finding suitable accommodation and negotiating with landlords, finding work, providing loans to allow refugees start their own business, accompanying asylum seekers and refugees to medical appointments, enrolling children in school or arranging a tutor, providing school uniforms and books, obtaining birth certificates and providing emergency financial assistance. However, the path toward attaining refugee status is by no means easy.

The question must be asked: why would Australia want to send refugees to Cambodia, a country that is clearly struggling to cope with the small number of refugees it already has? (This is not to mention the inevitable problems that will arise as 200,000 of its own people are now flooding back in from Thailand.)

If Australia does go ahead with the plan to offload its refugees in Cambodia, as a signatory of the refugee convention it remains morally responsible for their protection and wellbeing. The fact is, Australia is more than capable and infinitely better suited to welcome the asylum seekers who arrive seeking Australian protection. It is unjust, unneighbourly and devoid of compassion to push persecuted and vulnerable people out of the front door or off the front shore.

Read more at: Australia's refugee solution is no solution at all (ucanews.com)

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