An alliance of leading children’s, international aid, human rights and refugee organisations from Australia and the Asia-Pacific have condemned a deal brokered by the Federal Government to relocate refugee families to Cambodia.

Grave concerns for children and families

Former Chief Justice of the Family Court, the Hon. Alastair Nicholson, speaking on behalf of the alliance said UNICEF Australia, Save the Children, Plan International Australia, World Vision, Amnesty International, Refugee Council of Australia, International Detention Coalition and Children’s Rights International, had grave concerns for the welfare of children and their families under the deal.

The organisations had met in Sydney earlier this month to formalise a commitment for regional co-operation and the protection and welfare of asylum seekers.

Exploitation of Cambodia

Mr Nicholson said the group had advice from Cambodian partners against any plan that would overwhelm an already struggling welfare sector and exploit one of the poorest nations in South East Asia.

"This planned deal is inappropriate, immoral and likely illegal," Mr Nicholson said.

"It is inappropriate because Cambodia has no capacity within its social sector to take an influx of refugees. Immoral because these vulnerable people are Australia’s responsibility, and while we await the detail, it appears illegal in contravening Australia’s humanitarian and refugee obligations to vulnerable children and families."

"Cambodia is already heavily reliant on the support of international donors for its own social and welfare needs and our colleagues and partners tell us there would be little to none of the specialised support and care these families and children would need," he said.

"When you choose to place refugee children in the care of a country already dependent on the international donor community for supporting its own children, you make a clear choice to put refugee children and their families at serious risk."

Not a solution

The alliance of children’s and refugee agencies said Cambodia’s education and health systems would not be able to support or sustain the arrival of refugees. Today 70 per cent of Cambodia’s children do not reach secondary school. Poor health also affects Cambodian children, with 40 per cent of children under the age of five undernourished.

"Cambodia is not a solution to our refugee issues," Mr Nicholson said. "It’s another inadequate bilateral arrangement, and like Nauru, it is completely unsustainable."

Save the Children, Acting CEO Mat Tinkler said "While it may be a small step up from Nauru, where there are no prospects for families to secure an income or support their children long-term, and where conditions for refugees are even worse than what we can anticipate in Cambodia. This agreement is another inadequate bilateral arrangement, and like Nauru, it is completely unsustainable."

Mr Nicholson concluded, "Australia needs a properly resourced and sustainable regional co-operation plan that shares the responsibility for refugees between countries and does not place an unfair and unreasonable burden on our under-resourced and under-prepared neighbours."