Australia asks impoverished Cambodia to take some asylum seekers

PHNOM PENH Sat Feb 22, 2014 3:44am EST

Asylum seekers, who were turned back by Australia, sit in an immigration holding area at a hotel in Kupang January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Aubrey Belford

Asylum seekers, who were turned back by Australia, sit in an immigration holding area at a hotel in Kupang January 28, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Aubrey Belford

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Australia asked Cambodia, one of Asia's poorest countries, on Saturday to take in asylum seekers detained while trying to reach the Australian coast and Cambodia said it would think about it.

Australia's government came to power last year partly because of a tough stance on asylum seekers arriving from Indonesia with Prime Minister Tony Abbott promising to "stop the boats".

Australia already has offshore detention centers in the impoverished South Pacific nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru for asylum seekers it intercepts, often in rickety boats.

On Saturday, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop asked Prime Minister Hun Sen if Cambodia, which in the 1970s and 1980s saw a huge exodus of refugees fleeing war and starvation, could also house some migrants.

"The Australian minister has requested that Cambodia takes in some refugees," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told a news briefing with Bishop.

"In the past, Cambodians have fled their country to other countries but now, it's time that Cambodia takes in refugees from other countries," he said.

Hun Sen would "take serious consideration" of the request, Hor Namhong said.

In her comments, Bishop did not refer directly to the Australian request but said she had discussed cooperation with Cambodia in various areas including people smuggling.

The number of asylum seekers reaching Australia pales in comparison with other countries but it is a polarizing political issue that also stokes tension with neighboring Indonesia over border policies that have been criticized by the United Nations and international human rights groups.

One asylum seeker was killed and about 80 were hurt in rioting last week at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has said the Manus camp should be shut because it fails to provide "safe and humane conditions of treatment in detention".

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (3)
DaveComments wrote:
Australia – international joke.

Feb 22, 2014 10:55pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Jacky73 wrote:
Lucky blighters, looks like a green tropical paradise compared to the dry arid unhygenic UN tent camps in Africa. Good on Australia for proactively seeking relocation for these unfortunate yet illegal souls on behalf of Indonesia.

Feb 24, 2014 5:28am EST  --  Report as abuse
92592sy wrote:
Shame on you, Australia !

Feb 25, 2014 6:53pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

Full focus