The recent release of an in-principle agreement between Australia and Cambodia that would allow refugees to be sent to Cambodia for resettlement shows that there are no limits to the draconian policies being pursued by the Australian government.
If approved this would mean that about 1000 refugees who are currently locked up at the Nauru detention centre will be deported to one of the most impoverished countries on earth. Meetings behind closed doors between government officials will finalise the deal that will see Cambodia become a dumping ground for Australia’s refugees.
The so called choices given to refugees are either the devil or the deep blue sea: either they settle temporary in Nauru where there is no future, or they settle permanently in poverty stricken Cambodia. Their only other option is to return to the country they have fled from and face persecution.
Although Cambodia is a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, the country is far less capable of taking refugees compared to Australia. The country is still recovering from a devastating history of the civil war under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime and the nation’s budget is heavily dependent on foreign aid.
Wages in Cambodia are about one-third the level of those paid in China while more than 20% of the population still lives in abject poverty. The economy is based on the exploitation of cheap labour. It mostly produces cheap goods for foreign export and has been hit hard by the financial crisis. It has only been kept afloat by China boosting aid and investment.
Human rights groups and even the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees are opposed to this deal saying it is in breech of the UN Refugee Convention. Of the approximately 5000 people who have sought asylum in Cambodia since 1992 only 68 remain in the country.
Those 68 have very few rights. They are denied work permits, are unable to open bank accounts or buy property and they struggle to access education and health care.
The Cambodian government itself has a record of human rights violations. In return for a $1 billion Chinese aid package they deported 20 Uighur asylum seekers back to China in 2009 where they faced savage state prosecution. At the same time dissidents within Cambodia itself are dealt with harshly.
It is clear that a substantial amount of money will be given to the Cambodian government as part of the deal with the Australian government seeking to exercise influence over Cambodia through an aid package worth more than $85 million this year.
It is highly unlikely that any of this money will be used to help asylum seekers. Cambodia is rampant with corruption and despite billions of dollars in aid the country struggles to feed its own people.
The political situation in Cambodia is extremely volatile. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) lost its strong majority in last years election after nearly 30 years in power. With the economic crisis taking its toll the government would be more than happy to take the extra aid money while largely leaving the 1000 refugees to their own devices.
This plan is an attempt by the Australian government to send a message to asylum seekers: do not try and make your way to Australia or else you will likely end up somewhere much worse. It must be opposed.
Instead of giving money to corrupt regimes, or profiteering companies that run off shore detention centres, refugees should be processed on shore and in the community. This would be much cheaper therefore freeing up money that could be used to create jobs, build homes and provide services for everyone including refugees.
By Tim Tran
Refugee activists picket deportation
In early June about 50 people picketed the MITA refugee detention centre in Broadmeadows on the outskirts of Melbourne. The emergency protest was called upon hearing the news that 14 asylum seekers were to be deported from the MITA centre to the detention camp on Christmas Island.
The families were being moved against their will and many were suffering from health issues.
Refugee rights activists blocked the entrances to the MITA detention centre from 6.30am for about 5 hours. This was the first time in recent memory that activists had attempted to physically stop a deportation in Melbourne. Many were inspired by similar actions that took place at the Villawood detention centre in Sydney during April.
While the police were able to eventually break the picket, the action has helped raise the level of debate in the movement about the tactics needed to defeat the government’s cruel policies of mandatory detention and offshore processing of refugees.
For its part, the Socialist Party advocates coupling mass protests for refugee rights with direct action aimed at stopping the implementation of the government’s policies. Companies that profit from the mandatory detention system should also be targeted.
By Anthony Main