Australian-Cambodian refugee agreement could set disturbing precedent – UN agency

27 September 2014

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today expressed deep apprehension today over a new refugee agreement between Australia and Cambodia barring Nauru refugees seeking Australia’s protection from settling there, offering them instead settlement in Cambodia.

High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said, “Refugees are persons who are fleeing persecution or the life-threatening effects of armed conflict. They are entitled to better treatment than being shipped from one country to the next.”

UNHCR consistently advocates for asylum-seekers to have their claims assessed under the protection of the State where they arrive or which has jurisdiction over them. In this case, the refugees were forcibly transferred to Nauru for assessment under what UNHCR considers harmful conditions.

Mr. Guterres hopes that the Australian Government will reconsider this approach, “This development is a worrying departure from international norms. International responsibility sharing is the basis on which the whole global refugee system works.”

While UNHCR recognizes the challenges of people moving by sea in the region, it believes that solutions lie in broad-based regional cooperation, in which all States play their part.

“We are seeing record forced displacement globally, with 87 per cent of refugees now being hosted in developing countries. It's crucial that countries do not shift their refugee responsibilities elsewhere,” maintained UN High Commissioner.

As of 31 August 2014, a total of 1,084 people lived on Manus Island and 1,233 in Nauru. Cambodia currently hosts 70 refugees and 20 asylum-seekers.


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