Press Release: Australia must intervene to stop Cambodia breaching Refugee Convention

Please see the full Press Release in PDF format here.

18 September 2017

For immediate release

Australia must intervene to stop Cambodia breaching Refugee Convention

(Bangkok) – The Australian Government must urgently work with its Cambodian counterparts to halt the imminent return of a group of 36 Montagnard refugees to Vietnam. With the group facing almost certain arrest and persecution upon return, the Australian Government has an ethical obligation to do everything in its power to stop such action.

Despite the Cambodian Interior Ministry having denied their refugee claim, it is clear that the 36 Montagnards have genuine protection needs. Their case is considered so strong that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had previously assisted in brokering a deal that would have seen the group removed from Cambodia in preparation for resettlement to a third country. Despite this generous offer, the Cambodian Government has denied exit permits and has reaffirmed its intention to return the group to Vietnam.

“Such action by the Cambodian Government would be tantamount to refoulement and in flagrant disregard of the 1951 Refugee Convention and customary international law. This action by Phnom Penh seriously calls into question Australia’s claim that Cambodia is a safe country and one that would be welcoming to refugees currently detained on Nauru,” said Evan Jones, Programme Coordinator at the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network.

As one of only two countries in ASEAN to have signed the Refugee Convention, Cambodia is portrayed by Australia as a viable solution for refugees currently detained on Manus Island and Nauru. Under an AUD$55 million deal brokered by the Australian Government, Cambodia was enlisted to resettle refugees currently detained on Nauru. Despite only seven refugees having left Nauru for Cambodia, this deal is still being promoted as a viable solution by the Australian Government.

“As the Australian Government has used Cambodia’s status as a Refugee Convention signatory to argue for its resettlement deal, it must act when Cambodia’s adherence to the Refugee Convention is clearly under threat,” said Paul Power, CEO at the Refugee Council of Australia. “The forced return of the 36 Montagnards would not only undermine Cambodia’s reputation for respecting international law but would inflict further damage on Australia’s credibility on refugee protection.”

The Australian Government must urgently intervene with Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng to prevent the forced return of people regarded by UNHCR as being in need of refugee protection. Without such intervention, Australia is effectively condoning this action by the Cambodian authorities and not living up to its name as a credible leader in the region.

About APRRN:

The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) is an open and growing network of over 300 civil society groups and individuals from 28 countries in the Asia Pacific region committed to advancing the rights of refugees, through joint advocacy, capacity-strengthening, resource sharing and outreach.


Media Contacts:

Evan Jones, Programme Coordinator, Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (Bangkok, Thailand)

Tel: +66 972464270 | Email:

Yiombi Thona, Chair, Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (Seoul, Korea)

Tel: +82 1038816610 | Email:

Tim O’Connor, Communications Director, Refugee Council of Australia (Sydney, Australia)

Tel: +61 431147366 | Email:


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