Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has played down reports Cambodia does not want to settle more refugees as part of its transfer deal with Australia.
Four people were transferred from Nauru to the South-East Asian nation in June in an arrangement costing Australia more than $55 million, but a Cambodian ministry spokesman has reportedly said the fewer refugees the country receives, the better.
Mr Dutton said the comments were from a low-level official and he expected Cambodia to continue to honour the agreement.
“We have discussions ongoing at an officials level, and we have a level of confidence in the MOU that we’ve signed with the Cambodian government which allows for more than four to go,” he told the ABC’s World Today program.
“We hope a lot more will follow the four, but the MOU has been signed between Cambodia and Australia and we expect it to be honoured and we’re working with Cambodians to that end.
“There are other people in Nauru now who are prepared to go to Cambodia and we’re working through the detail of that with the officials.”
The federal opposition earlier slammed Australia’s refugee resettlement deal with Cambodia as an “expensive joke”.
Labor’s immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the government has failed to find resettlement options for refugees.
“How does [Mr Dutton] reconcile the Australian Government’s ambitions for Cambodia with the comments which are coming out from Cambodia itself?” he asked.
“We’ve always heard consistently from Cambodia that they’ve never imagined doing anything other than having a few a handful of people go to Cambodia.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she recently held talks with the Cambodian foreign minister, Hor Namhong, about the transfer arrangement.
“We had a very productive, constructive discussion about how Cambodia can continue to work in partnership with the Australian Government and others,” Ms Bishop said.
“Obviously Cambodia is determined to ensure that the people they do take are integrated well into their society, into their communities, and so that’s what they have done with the first four. But we’re working closely with them,” she said.
“Cambodia is committed to a regional solution, and has committed through a memorandum of understanding with the Australian Government to resettle some asylum seekers who are found to be genuine refugees.”