Friday, May 2, 2014

Is Cambodia a Suitable Place for Refugee Resettlement?

Boat refugees on their journey to Australia (image

Protracted bloody war, killing fields, and Vietnamese invasion had forced nearly a million Cambodians fleeing their country for safe places in Thailand, Europe, U.S., Canada, Australia, and so on over the past decades, especially from 1970 to 1990.  Paris Peace Accord on October 23, 1991 officially ended a long protracted war and Vietnamese occupation, but since then Cambodia has not been well stable politically and economically.  Rampant corruption, human rights abuses, and dictatorial rule by one man or one party have created political instability and poverty in the country.  A recent agreement in principle between Cambodian and Australian governments to resettle boat refugees in Cambodia has created some reasonable doubt among Cambodian people as well as the international community about Cambodian government's ability and honesty to handle this humanitarian duty since Cambodian government has had awful human rights records and forcibly deportation of Mongtagnard refugees from Vietnam and Uighur people from China.  How can Cambodian government help the other people to get better life while it still suppresses its own people politically and economically?

People's basic rights to shelters being abused by Cambodian government
As a former refugee exodus country along with its moral duty, Cambodia may pay back some generosity that it had received from other countries during its hard time in the past.  Such an action will be extolled by Cambodian people as well as the international community if the government does it in good faith.  But through its past experience this government never did any good for refugees except the Vietnamese illegal immigrants who have been freely allowed to settle in the country without proper documentations.  In 2001, Hun Sen's government shut down the UN's refugee camp sheltering thousands of Mongtangnard refugees who had fled from the Vietnamese government's persecution in order to please its master, Hanoi.  Also, in 2009, the government swiftly deported 20 Uighur refugees who fled from Chinese government's persecution in exchange with big financial aids and trade deal from Beijing though persistently pleaded by the UN and the Human Rights advocates.  Along with deporting foreign refugees, Cambodian government also created its own refugees; every year hundreds of Cambodian people have fled to Thailand seeking asylum from the UN for political persecution and personal threats from the government.  Those people are opposition activists, government critics, and victims of violence assassinations and intimidation such as a singer star Touch Sreynech, a famous poet, Kong Bunchoeun, union leader Chea Vichea and police chief Heng Pov's families and so on.

Along with political and judicial unfavorable environment, Cambodian economy is too weak to support new comers since it has no economic capacity to support its own people yet.  Currently, Cambodian economy can't even created low paid jobs for the people; as the aftermath, nearly a half a million Cambodian workers migrated to seek jobs in other countries such as in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and Middle East.  Now those boat refugees may come from the countries which have similar economic condition as Cambodia.  If they seek good paid jobs, social justice, and better living conditions, Cambodia totally has nothing to offer them besides temporary settlement before they could make their final decision to return home or to stay in Cambodia where economic and political condition may be worse than their homeland.  Persistent land grabbing, forcibly evictions of people from their homes, violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, and banning people from gathering are just some examples of how horrible the human rights in Cambodia are being violated by the current regime.  All these dire conditions perhaps are uncommon in those refugee's homelands.

For Australia, the refugee resettlement in Cambodia will reduce its long term burden and discourage more new comers seeking better life in the country which is struggling to create more jobs for its growing population.  Such a deal is not much different from the 2001 U.S. and Cambodian government's agreement that allowed the U.S. government to deport Cambodian refugees back home  when they had committed crimes on the U.S. soil.  In exchange, the U.S. government would accept Cambodian government's request to prosecute an anti-Cambodian government group leader, Chun Yasith of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) according to the U.S. anti-terrorist law.  The agreement had deported more than 2,000 Cambodians back home from the U.S., but this practice has been seen as an unfair policy toward Cambodian people and drawn sharp criticism from some US law makers since the U.S. government has not taken the same measure with the other countries which have more peoples from their countries living in the U.S. such as Vietnam, Laos, China, India, Philippines, Mexico, Cuba, Somalia, and so forth.

Despite Australia is not the best destination for asylum seekers in comparison to the U.S., Canada, and Europe, in 2013 Australia received 300 boats with 20,587 refugees (according to Australian parliament source).  With heavy burden of refugees since early 1970s, Australia tries to find another countries in the region to help reducing it burdens and to deter refugee influx in the future.  Each Australian political party pledged to its supporters to curb and to end boat people's arrival on its shore by seeking all available means if it is on power.   Those refugees predominantly came from the war-torn and poor stricken countries and repressive regimes: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Africa, Sri Lanka, Iran, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and even Vietnam and China.  Australia has spent at least $300 million each year to deal with this continuous refugee resettlement, and such a big continuous spending may not sustainable in a long run.  Therefore, Australia tries all avenues to find ways to shift its economic burden and finally to stop refugee boat's arrivals on its shore by diverting their destinations to the poor countries such as Papua New Guinea and Cambodia so that the people may not choose to risk their lives on a dangerous journey again when they will end up in the similar places like their homeland.

Severe human rights violation in form of torture in Cambodia
There is nothing wrong to accept refugee settlements in the country, particularly for Cambodia--a
former place of refugee exodus in the 1970s and 1980s, now it needs to pay back its moral duty to other nations based on its economic capacity. It is a good moral duty that each civilized nation should uphold if it does in humanitarian purpose-- free from political and financial motivations.  Now, again, Cambodian government sees financial opportunity for resettlement of those refugees more than moral duty though the government officials insisted that they would do according to humanitarian policy and international norm, but the cases of the Montagnards and Uighur refugees in the past are the precedent proof of what the government will do with these refugees again.  In the past Australia spent nearly $500 millions to help Papua New Guinea resettling and accommodating those boat refugees attempting to reach Australian shore.  And every year, Australian government spends at least $300 millions to deal with the influx of boat refugees.  Now the Cambodian government expects to share that $300 millions pile if the plan of resettlement in Cambodia finally approved by both countries.

Thus, the refugee resettlement in Cambodia is more financial purpose than moral obligation because the Cambodian government used to play game with refugees for financial and political purposes in the past. Now it sees another opportunity again though it has no economic and political capabilities to take care those refugees.  The Cambodian government already failed to create jobs for its own people and continuously abuses their basic rights of free expression, sheltering, and personal safety. But as financial motivation has prevailed, the resettlement agreement will be more likely moving forward as planned regardless of what will happen to the refugees' welfare and livelihood in the future.  When the Cambodian government has treated its own people as we have seen everyday, there is no way it will treat the refugees better in the country except the Vietnamese immigrants.  Any attempt to dump refugees into Cambodian society will not help those people to regain their normal lives but to punish them in unusual way.  Don't expect the Cambodian government to commit its moral duty to those refugees unless its has done to its own people first.

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