Cambodia: New deal with Australia signs away refugee rights

A new low in Australia’s deplorable and inhumane treatment of asylum seekers has been reached with a deal to apparently ship refugees to Cambodia, where respect for their human rights cannot be guaranteed, said Amnesty International.

An agreement between the Australian and Cambodian governments to relocate refugees to the South-East Asian state is to be signed tomorrow, 26 September, in Phnom Penh by Cambodia’s Minister of Interior and Australia’s Minister of Immigration and Border Protection. 

“This agreement is putting the short-term political interests of the Australian government ahead of the protection of some of the world’s most vulnerable people – refugees,” said Rupert Abbott, Deputy Asia-Pacific Director at Amnesty International.

“It makes Cambodia complicit in Australia’s human rights breaches and seriously flawed offshore processing system.” 

The lack of transparency over the terms of the agreement has been a major cause of concern in both countries. There has been no opportunity for civil society to contribute to discussions or to formally raise objections on the basis of international human rights standards.

Amnesty International and other international rights groups have questioned Cambodia’s suitability as a host country for refugees relocated by Australia.

The human rights situation in the country is troubling. There has been a marked deterioration of respect for freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, including a violent crackdown by security forces on striking workers and activists in January, while forced evictions, land disputes and land grabbing affect thousands of people. 

“In January the Australian Government condemned Cambodia’s human rights record at a UN human rights hearing, but will now relocate vulnerable refugees, possibly including children, to the country,” said Rupert Abbott.

Providing appropriate services to ensure successful settlement of refugees requires considerable expertise and a coordinated approach for the various services required, especially for children. 

Amnesty International cannot envisage how this will be possible given the lack of required services in Cambodia.


Many of the refugees who will apparently be relocated as part of the agreement between Cambodia and Australia have already been held unlawfully in harsh, humiliating conditions in Australia’s offshore detention centres.

Amnesty International has documented how asylum seekers offshore have been subjected to a host of human rights violations and abuses, including violent assault, as they wait in legal limbo. 

Ultimately, the international refugee protection system obliges Australia to allow these individuals to obtain international protection in Australia.