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Australia dismisses corruption concerns in refugee deal with Cambodia

Australia Tuesday dismissed concerns that money given to Cambodia to resettle refugees could end up in the pockets of corrupt officials as Phnom Penh moves closer to joining Papua New Guinea and Nauru in accepting asylum-seekers.

SYDNEY: Australia Tuesday dismissed concerns that money given to Cambodia to resettle refugees could end up in the pockets of corrupt officials as Phnom Penh moves closer to joining Papua New Guinea and Nauru in accepting asylum-seekers.

Cambodia has agreed "in principle" to take asylum-seekers bound for Australia despite controversy at the prospect of them being taken to one of Asia's poorest nations.

Under its hardline policy, Canberra currently denies would-be refugees resettlement by sending them to Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

While a deal has yet to be inked with Cambodia, Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said talks were progressing.

"We are having positive discussions and I appreciate the response we are getting from Cambodia but we have still got some distance to travel and we are travelling that distance," he said.

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy blasted the move, saying his impoverished country was not able to provide for its own people, let alone would-be Australian refugees.

"I don't think that it would be realistic, appropriate and decent to send any refugees from Australia, or any camp under the control of the Australian government, to Cambodia," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"Because this country, Cambodia, is not prepared. It is not equipped to receive any refugee.

"I think it would be a disgrace," he added.

"A rich, powerful and respected country such as Australia must face its responsibility dealing with this humanitarian problem."

Cambodia is perceived as one of the world's most corrupt countries while its leader Hun Sen is regularly accused of ignoring human rights and suppressing political dissent.

Rainsy fears any money Australia gives Phnom Penh could be siphoned off.

"Cambodia is one of the world's most corrupt countries. So any money, especially from any foreign source, would be diverted and channelled into the pocket of our corrupt leaders with very little, if any, benefit to the ordinary people," he said.

Morrison declined to say how much money it was offering Cambodia to take refugees, but insisted there would be safeguards to ensure it was not misused.

"We are not in the business of lining the pockets of officials, we are in the business of providing legitimate settlement packages that will help people get on their feet," he said.

"So I dismiss those suggestions, I don't think that is a risk here.

"We have the experience, whether it is working in our aid programme or working in resettlement programmes to ensure that we can get the resources to the people who need it to get on their feet."

In its budget this week, Canberra estimated its tough policies to prevent illegal boat arrivals would reap savings of A$2.5 billion (US$2.3 billion) over five years, with detention centres in Australia now being closed down.

It also announced that A$86.8 million would be given to Indonesia, where many of the boats originate, to help it manage its asylum-seeker population.

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