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As refugees set to arrive for resettling, Cambodians keep leaving

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Tens of thousands of Cambodians are paying to be smuggled into other south-east Asian countries to work illegally, as Australia prepares to send refugees to their country from Nauru.

A new United Nations report says criminal gangs are using south-east Asia as a source and destination for illegal labour but the workers have little ability to assert their basic rights and become vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and exploitation.

"Cambodia is predominantly a source country for irregular migrants who move independently with aid of smugglers to Thailand and Malaysia," said the report by the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Haunted by genocide that killed an estimated 1.7 million people in the 1970s and plagued by poverty, corruption and human rights abuses, Cambodia has up to 55,000 of its nationals smuggled into Thailand each year, the report says.

The illegal Cambodian migrants are mainly male, from poor rural communities aged between 17 and 35, it says.

They primarily move to Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam to obtain work, using dangerous routes through tricky terrain under the cover of darkness to reach their destinations.

"The cross border movement of people in Asia is expected to grow rapidly and at unprecedented levels with the expansion of infrastructure across the region," said Jeremy Douglas, regional representative for UNODC in south-east Asia and the Pacific.

Despite the mass exodus, Australia has been hard-selling Cambodia as a land of opportunity to hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru in a bid to convince them to give up their hopes of living in Australia.

In a video message to those on the island last week Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton touted Cambodia as a "fast-paced and vibrant country with a stable economy and varied employment opportunities … a diverse nation with a blend of many nationalities, cultures and opportunity".

"An opportunity for a new life is now before you," he told the refugees.

But refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said refugees on Nauru have produced their own YouTube video in which they reject Australia's offer of up to $15,000 and other incentives to live in Cambodia.

Mr Rintoul said only four refugees have so far agreed to be transferred to Cambodia, one of Asia's poorest nations ruled for more than 30 years by  Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former cadre of the murderous Khmer Rouge organisation responsible for the 1970s deaths. Mr Rintoul said Australian officials on the island have been approaching asylum-seekers in apparent breach of a controversial deal with Cambodia that stipulated those who resettle in Cambodia must have refugee status.

"It is now clear that the government is desperately approaching asylum-seekers in an effort to get people to agree to be transferred to Cambodia".

Mr Rintoul said an Iranian couple and single Iranian man who have agreed to go to Cambodia had their applications for refugee status fast-tracked.

A Rohingya refugee has also agreed to board a plane Australia intends to charter from Nauru to Cambodia within days.

The UNODC report warns that the smuggling of migrants poses a significant threat to Asia, generating an annual value of US$2 billion ($2.5 billion) for criminal groups and leading to deaths and human rights abuses.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

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