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Protests Erupt over Australia-Cambodia Refugee Deal – But Is It Such a Bad Idea?

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison toastinf Cambodian deal

The Australian Green Party on Saturday condemned the refugee transfer memorandum of understanding signed on Friday between Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Cambodia’s Interior Minister Sar Kheng. The Greens called it a “dirty deal, ” The Australian reported, and said the celebration of said dirty deal in Phnom Penh was “crass, ” seeing as the two ministers toasted their agreement with champagne.

The Australian Labor party, according to The Australian, said the deal was a “complete farce.”

The deal will allow refugees who have been processed on the Pacific island of Nauru to resettle to voluntarily move from Australia’s offshore processing center on the small Pacific island of Nauru to Cambodia, where they would settle permanently.

As many as 1, 000 refugees will transferred under this deal, and in return Australia will pay Cambodia US$35 million over four years, in addition to US$70 million in aid already allocated for the 2014-15 financial year, the NY Times reported.

“A number of those found to be in genuine need of protection will now have the opportunity and support to re-establish their lives free from persecution, ” Morrison said in a statement.

Morrison said Cambodia will decide how many refugees it wants to take in, and when. Cambodian officials say they’d like to start off with five refugees, according to The Australian, but Morrison is expecting a whole lot more, saying Phnom Penh has made a “very strong commitment.”

“What Cambodia is saying, and we agree with them, is that you have to start off small, make sure the program is working, and then build it up over time, ” Morrison ABC.

The Greens are unhappy with the deal, no matter how small or how slow, calling it a “fundamental failure” and a $40 million bribe to a corrupt government sure to bring on human misery.

“On budget night we had Joe Hockey dancing, and now we have Scott Morrison popping champagne corks after signing a dirty deal with one of the most corrupt and poorest nations on Earth, ” Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told reporters on Saturday, adding, “It’s crass, it’s sickening.”

The UN refugee agency said it is “deeply concerned at the precedent, ” urging the Australians to reconsider.

“It’s crucial that countries do not shift their refugee responsibilities elsewhere, ” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said on Friday.

The NY Times quotes Amnesty International as saying there are about 3, 300 asylum seekers in Australia’s offshore detention centers, including about 222 children on Nauru.

This may emerge as a test case for the ability of first world countries to unload their immigration problems on less fortunate countries for the right price. Naturally, Israel’s illegal migrant population comes to mind – it currently stands at well over 50, 000 illegals seeking asylum, who have fled the Sudan and Eritrea. Would Cambodia or anyone else out there be interested in them for the right price?

Here’s another thought: the cost of $35 million to shelter 3, 300 refugees comes to a little under $11, 000 per asylum seeker. Wouldn’t they prefer to take the cash and go back home—war torn or not—on their own?

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