Surely you jest?

April 19, 2015

Sometimes this blog could just write itself. Honestly.

The International Organization for Migration said it is expecting the first refugees to arrive in Phnom Penh within days from the Pacific island of Nauru, as part of a controversial resettlement deal cooked up between Australia and Cambodia last year.

News of the first arrivals follows the leaking of a letter that the refugees are being given that makes … interesting … claims about the state of Cambodia’s democracy, health care system and respect for free speech.

Under the agreement, Cambodia has agreed to take an unlimited number of the hundreds of refugees that Australia is currently holding on Nauru, in return for $35 million in aid.

Rights groups and lawmakers in both countries have attacked the deal, “accusing Australia of shirking its international obligations for the refugees by shunting them off to one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the region,” according to the Cambodia Daily.

Two separate delegations from Cambodia that visited Nauru have so far failed to convince a single refugee to take up the offer. Cambodia said the visiting officials gave the refugees “an honest take” on what they could expect life to be like in their country.

A leaked letter, however, shows that the refugees are being lied to. The five-page letter, which is being handed out by Australian immigration officials on Nauru, is titled “Settlement in Cambodia” and offers guidance to what help refugees can expect upon arriving here.

“Moving to Cambodia provides an opportunity for you and your family to start a new life in a safe country, free from persecution and violence, and build your future,” it says.

Cambodians “enjoy all the freedoms of a democratic society, including freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”

On the subject of safety, the letter tells the refugees that they have nothing to worry about. “Cambodia is a safe country, where police maintain law and order,” it says. “It does not have problems with violent crime or stray dogs.”

“Cambodia has a high standard of health care,” the letter goes on to say, “with multiple hospitals and general practitioners.”

Where to start?

Last year, researchers at Harvard and the University of Sydney ranked Cambodia’s 2013 national election the fifth most “flawed or failed” out of the 73 national polls held around the world in the previous 18 months. It beat Belarus, the Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, and Equatorial Guinea, though. Which is, I suppose, something.

In 2013, the US-based Freedom House ranked Cambodia “not free” for the 40th year running, placing it among the countries “where basic political rights are absent, and basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied.”

Just last month, the World Justice Project ranked Cambodia 98th out of 102 countries in its index of government openness. Cambodia also consistently ranks near the bottom of global measures of corruption and press freedom.

The government regularly deploys police and soldiers to break up peaceful protests by force. The UN’s last human rights envoy to Cambodia said the judiciary was “riddled” with corruption.

The US Bureau of Diplomatic Security last year released a report for embassy staff that gave Cambodia a “critical” crime rating. “The frequency of armed robberies involving weapons continues at high levels.”

The Australian Foreign Affairs Department says visitors to Cambodia should take out medical evacuation insurance.

“Health and medical services in Cambodia are generally of a very poor quality and very limited in the services they can provide,” the department says. “Outside Phnom Penh, there are almost no medical facilities equipped to deal with medical emergencies.”

The Guardian's take on the subject...

The Guardian’s take on the subject…

But on the bright side, Cambodia has just won a Guinness World Record, for making the biggest rice cake in the world. Weighing in at four tons, the cake was paraded through the streets of Siem Reap, to general joy and delight.

giant-cake_supplied

Hun Many, a CPP lawmaker and son of Prime Minister Hun Sen, said the accomplishment would earn Cambodia international respect. “I am proud to be a child of Cambodia, and today we have achieved a giant sticky rice cake, and the world will acknowledge that from now on.” Hun told an audience in Siem Reap.

“Our hard work comes from having a singular spirit and a single target to make a giant sticky rice cake to make the people and the international stage know what Cambodia is today and what can come from our unity,” he added.

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