Australia Resettles Cambodian Activist’s Family as Refugees

In this July 11, 2016 file photo, Cambodian community activists carry a wreath during the funeral procession of government critic Kem Ley, pictured, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo: Heng Sinith / Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia continued to work effectively with Cambodia, an Australian minister said on Wednesday after news that a murdered Cambodian political activist’s family had been accepted as refugees.

Kem Ley’s wife and five children arrived in the Australian city of Melbourne from Thailand on Saturday, state officials said on Tuesday.

Kem Ley was shot dead in a convenience store in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, in July 2016, and his family escaped to a Thai refugee camp.

Peter Dutton, as minister for immigration and border protection, has encouraged refugees rejected by Australia to resettle in Cambodia, arguing that they would be safe from persecution in the developing Southeast Asian country with a tarnished human rights record.


Dutton, who is now home affairs ministers, told reporters on Wednesday that he would not discuss the refugee case of the slain activist’s family.

“We take our international obligations very seriously. We also have a very good working relationship with the Cambodian government,” Dutton told the National Press Club.

“There is a lot, by way of equity, in that relationship and we’ll continue to work very effectively with the Cambodian government,” Dutton added.

Alleged gunman Oeut Ang was sentenced by a Cambodian court last year to life in prison after he confessed to shooting the activist for failing to repay a personal debt.

There was speculation that Oeut Ang was a scapegoat, and that the murder was politically motivated because of Kem Ley’s caustic commentaries about Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government.

Last week, exiled former Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy questioned the prospect of Australia resettling the slain activist’s family when Australia continues to pay Cambodia to accept refugees that Australia holds in the Pacific island nation of Nauru.

Australia has stopped asylum seekers from attempting to reach its shores by boat by refusing to accept them and banishing all boat arrivals to Australian-run immigration camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Australia agreed in 2014 to pay Cambodia $35 million over four years to resettle an unspecified number of asylum seekers held on Nauru.

Only seven refugees took up the offer and reportedly only three remain there.


“It would be very embarrassing to accept refugees from Cambodia when you want to send refugees to Cambodia,” Rainsy told the National Press Club.

The United States is in the process of resettling up to 1,250 of Australia’s refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Story: Rod McGuirk