Immigration Reform: Australia’s Solution To Unwanted Refugees? Give Them To Cambodia

Australia will sign a pact with Cambodia that allows it to send away unwanted refugees to Cambodia. The unique take on immigration reform has stirred outrage from charities and human’s rights advocates. Australian ministers have tried to tell the media that they will only send refugees who choose to go to Cambodia, but that isn’t enough to end the controversy.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is scheduled to sign the bilateral treaty on Friday with Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng in Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. The treaty will allow Australia to send away any refugees it rejects, in exchange; experts are assuming that Australia will cover the costs of resettling the people.

Morrison said that in the deal, “Support will be tailored to the needs of those as part of a package of measures that will go to their resettlement which is designed to make them self-reliant as quickly as possible.”

With immigration policy still a controversial subject around the world, other countries might also consider bilateral treaties to outsource the problem. In the U.S.; all immigration reform has been tabled despite a massive influx of children from central America.

Naturally, critics have pointed out that Cambodia is dealing with extreme poverty and political corruption issues, the kind of conditions that, usually, produce refugees. One might say that refugees would simply be sent from one dangerous location to another. Alastair Nicholson, representing a number of charities explained that the refugee reform is “inappropriate, immoral and likely illegal.”

“It is inappropriate because Cambodia has no capacity within its social sector to take an influx of refugees. Immoral because these vulnerable people are Australia’s responsibility, and while we await the detail, it appears illegal in contravening Australia’s humanitarian and refugee obligations to vulnerable children and families.”

The news reports are also leaving another question wide open? If the program is voluntary, who would choose Cambodia?

Australia has reformed its immigration system to make the country less attractive to refugees. Instead of granting permanent status to asylum seekers, the land down under now only grants temporary three-year visas. At the end of the visa term, Australia sends the people back to their home if conditions have improved. So some may take the potential permanency of a move to Cambodia.

Nevertheless, some human rights watchers are concerned that it will not truly be voluntary, and authorities will pressure badly informed refugees into the program, which will have no maximum limit.

It looks like outsourcing has found a new dimension, the question is will Australia-Cambodia treaty be the future of immigration policy.

[Image Credit: Haeferl/Wikimedia Commons]

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