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‘Homesick’ refugees resettled in Cambodia return to Iran: Australia


Autralian Department of Immigration and Citizenship shows the tent accomodation for asylum seekers at Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, on 21 November 2012. Photo: Department of Immigration and Citizenship Australia/EPA

Two more refugees resettled in Cambodia from an Australian detention camp have returned home, the government said Tuesday, sparking renewed criticism about the Aus$55 million ($40 million) scheme.

Under Canberra's hard-line policy to stop asylum-seeker boats reaching its shores, those arriving by sea are denied resettlement in Australia even if found to be genuine refugees.

Instead they are turned back to their country of departure or sent to the tiny Pacific state of Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

The government also struck a deal with Phnom Penh in September 2014 to take in refugees in exchange for millions of dollars in aid, a move condemned by rights groups and questioned by the UN.

Initially, only four people held on Nauru -- three Iranians and one ethnic Rohingya man from Myanmar -- volunteered to move to the impoverished Southeast Asian nation, which has a weak record of upholding human rights. A fifth, another Rohingya, later joined them.

One of the Rohingya decided to return home last October, citing homesickness. Now two of the three Iranians have also left.

"Refugees can elect to return to their country of origin at any time, which is what an Iranian couple in Cambodia decided to do recently," said a spokesman for Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

A Cambodian immigration spokesman said the couple were "quite happy living in Cambodia, but they returned to Iran because they were homesick after a long time away".

Despite the recent departures, Cambodian officials said there are no plans to suspend the programme. 

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is assisting Cambodia with the resettlement, confirmed that Australia has continued to fund the programme, though not all of the allocated budget has been used. 

"IOM continues to receive funding from the Government of Australia to implement settlement services in Cambodia but that funding has not amounted to Aus$15 million given the limited number of refugees arriving from Nauru to date," IOM spokesman Joe Lowry told AFP. 

Australia's Labour opposition party, which supports the detention of asylum-seekers at the remote Pacific facilities, said with so few opting for resettlement the Cambodian scheme was a "dud".

"Not only has the coalition (government) wasted Aus$55 million of taxpayers' money on this dud deal, they have also left more than 2,000 people on Manus and Nauru in limbo for nearly three years on their watch," said shadow immigration spokesman Richard Marles.

Dutton defended Sydney's policy and the arrangement with Phnom Penh. 

"The government remains committed to supporting the government of Cambodia to implement settlement arrangements in Cambodia and encourages refugees temporarily in Nauru to explore this settlement option," he said.

© AFP

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