Nauru refugees fast-tracked, flight nixed: advocate

By: Daniel Pye

Australia has reportedly cancelled a planned flight intended to ferry the first batch of refugees from Nauru to Cambodia due to “logistical errors” after Cambodian officials on Sunday denied any refugees were expected in the Kingdom in the coming days.

Up to five asylum seekers in the Australian detention centre on the tiny island have accepted cash payments of thousands of dollars to have their refugee status determinations fast-tracked in order to be eligible to come to Cambodia, a refugee advocate said yesterday.

“There is only one I can confirm. But I am told that there could also be three Tamils and a Rohingya man.… One Iranian has definitely [taken the offer],” Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Australia-based Refugee Action Coalition, said.

As Australian immigration officials had been unable to convince any refugees already living temporarily on Nauru to take up the offer of resettlement, the Abbott government had resorted to targeting those whose claims had not yet been approved, he added.

“If you’re inside the detention centre the prospect of a fast-track determination and a visa, even to Cambodia, would be quite appealing to some. Cambodian officials were due to arrive on Nauru yesterday to assess the reported applications. The visit was announced after a letter handed out by the Australians inviting refugees to head to Cambodia as early as yesterday caused “confusion” among Cambodian officials, who had not been briefed on the proposed arrivals.

A spokesperson for Australia’s immigration minister, Peter Dutton, did not respond to a request for comment yesterday, but he told the ABC that the first plane “won’t be far off”.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong referred questions about the Cambodian delegation’s planned visit to Nauru to Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak, who could not be reached for comment.

Hong Lim, a Cambodian-Australian member of Victoria’s state parliament who worked closely with refugees arriving in Australia from the Indochinese wars of the 1970s, said he was “ashamed as an Australian … ashamed as a Cambodian”.

“Australia has a proud history and tradition of welcoming more than a million postwar Jewish, Eastern European and Indo-Chinese refugees.