Today – 20 June 2014 – is World Refugee Day. Around the world, people are raising awareness about the plight of millions of people who have been displaced by war, persecution, abuse, and fear. Yet, despite international law which requires countries to protect refugees and asylum seekers, the international community continues to fail to protect the human rights of these people. Here in Cambodia, an unwelcome agreement with Australia is threatening to erode international law and to affect the fundamental rights of hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers.
February 2014: The Australian press reveals negotiations between the Australian and Cambodian governments. A Memorandum of Understanding has been drafted, under which hundreds of people who had initially sought asylum in Australia may be sent to Cambodia. Details of the agreement have been kept secret, but the media mentions that it could affect up to 2,500 people. The Cambodian government repeats that the people concerned by the agreement will be coming to Cambodia on a volunteer basis. Still, can such a choice be freely made, as Australia has made it clear that those people will never be admitted on its soil?
The refugees and asylum seekers in question are those whom Australia shuts far away from its borders, in Nauru and on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, which according to Amnesty International, amounts to arbitrary detention and illegal expulsion of asylum seekers. In Manus, poor living conditions led to violent protests, one death, and about sixty persons injured in February. Australia is certainly ill-at-ease with these shameful events. Sadly, it has decided to replace one illegal option with another.