Updated: 04/04/2014 14:18 | By Agence France-Presse

Australia eyes Cambodia as asylum-seeker host

Australia's Immigration Minister Scott Morrison made an unannounced visit to Cambodia on Friday, raising speculation that Phnom Penh will join Papua New Guinea and Nauru in helping resettle asylum-seekers.


Australia eyes Cambodia as asylum-seeker host

Australia already holds refugees in camps in Papua New Guinea and on the remote island of Nauru (pictured) - by Torsten Blackwood

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said talks between Morrison and Cambodian officials represented the countries "staying in touch" as partners against people-smuggling.

"Whether Cambodia were to accept people is really a matter for Cambodia, but the point is people-smuggling is a regional problem," he told reporters.

"It needs to be dealt with in a regional way and any support and cooperation that other countries can give to Australia is obviously very welcome."

Australia has adopted a hardline policy against asylum-seekers arriving on unauthorised boats as it seeks to control its maritime borders and stop would-be refugees from drowning at sea.

Under the policy, boatpeople have been sent to camps on remote Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island in the Pacific for processing and denied resettlement in Australia.

"We're very pleased to have been getting the support from PNG and from Nauru that we've had and we look forward to further support from other countries in our region, including from Cambodia," Abbott said.

Refugee advocates and the Australian Greens have criticised the government's policy, which includes turning back boats and has resulted in no new boat arrivals for more than 100 days.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young accused the government of "looking for the next poor country to dump" refugees in embarking on discussions with Cambodia.

"No one in their right mind believes that Minister Morrison is doing anything beyond wiping Australia's hands of our international responsibilities," she told ABC radio.

So far no asylum-seekers in Manus have been resettled as refugees in PNG, but Morrison said on Thursday that this process was expected to begin in June.

"Those persons found not to be refugees will be held in detention in PNG pending removal to their home country or another country where they have a right of entry," Morrison said in a joint statement with his PNG counterpart Rimbink Pato. 

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