Friday, September 26, 2014

# 3 letter to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop re refugees - 30th Jan 2014

The Hon Julie Bishop
Minister for Foreign Affairs
House of Representatives, Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600                                                                                      

24th Feb 2014

Dear Minister

Why would a wealthy country like Australia even consider offloading refugees that arrived in Australian waters onto a poor country like Cambodia?

Cambodia is a country in which 40% of children are malnourished; a country in which one in five live below the poverty line; a country which, year after year, is voted one of the most corrupt in the world; a country in which the Hun Sen regime’s response to garment factory workers on strike, seeking the $160 a month wage that the government itself acknowledges is the bare minimum needed for survival, is to call in heavily armed soldiers shoot to kill? These soldiers, none of whom have been charged, belong to an army that receives military aid from Australia. And this army is controlled a government that receives around $100 million in aid from Australia each year – a substantial part of which winds up directly and indirectly lining the pockets of corrupt politicians.

Is Australia’s $100 million being spent to alleviate poverty in Cambodia or is it contributing, along with donor dollars from elsewhere in the world (up to $1 billion a year), to propping up what is essentially a dictatorship?

As I mentioned in my last letters to you of 26th and 29th Jan, receipt of which has not been acknowledged by your office, you need only look at some of the footage available to you online to get some sense of the sheer scale of the Hun Sen regime’s human rights abuses. And this is the government into whose care you wish to entrust refugees who arrived on Australian shores?

Will 40% of the child refugees joint the ranks of the malnourished? Will one in five of the refugee families that are deported to Cambodia live below the poverty line? No, it will be considerably more than one in five because these refugees will arrive in a country that has no social services to speak of, a country in which they do not speak the language, a country in which there is so little work for Cambodians that garment factories can get away with paying garment workers just half of what is required to survive?

It is hard to imagine why Australia engages in diplomatic relations at all with a government whose victory in the July 2013 elections is in very serious doubt. Every independent observer of the elections acknowledges that fraud on a massive scale occurred. Many countries, including Australia and the US congress, called for an independent investigation into the election results. Then, last October, Prime Minister Tiny Abbott congratulated Hun Sen on having won elections that few outside the Cambodian People’s Party believe he won. Was it in October that the Tony Abbott government conceived this plan to offload refugees onto Cambodia?

“We will cease our calls for an independent investigation of the election results, Mr Hun Sen, and pump another $100 million into the Cambodian economy next year in foreign aid if you will help us with our refugee problem?”

Is this the reality behind the spin that will ultimately be presented to the Australian public if this deal is sealed? Given that you did not take questions at your Phnom Penh press conference, we in the media will never have an opportunity to put this question to you and get an answer.

Not only is your plan to offload refugees onto Cambodia an abrogation of Australia’s duty of care for people who arrive on our shores seeking refuge, not only is it inappropriate to ask a poor country to shoulder the burden and prop up a corrupt government in the process, it is also virtually guaranteed to fail. And when it fails there will be plenty of representatives of the media in Cambodia, including myself, who will inform the Australian public of this failure – in all likelihood at a time when the Abbott government is trying to convince the Australian public that its policy of stopping the boats has been a success.

You should abandon this misconceived idea immediately.

best wishes

James Ricketson

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