Refugee couple settled in Cambodia under $55m deal return to Iran

Refugees head for entering a van at Phnom Penh International Airport on June 4, 2015. Source: AAP

An Iranian couple who were transferred to Cambodia from Nauru as part of the Australian government’s $55 million deal have returned home.

Two refugees who were settled in Cambodia from Nauru under a $55 million Australian government deal have decided to return home to Iran.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton today told SBS "refugees can elect to return to their country of origin at any time, which is what an Iranian couple in Cambodia decided to do recently".

"The Government remains committed to supporting the Government of Cambodia to implement settlement arrangements in Cambodia and encourages refugees temporarily in Nauru to explore this settlement option."

The Phnom Penh Post, quoting the Director of the Interior Ministry’s Refugee Department Kerm Sarin, said the couple had left the country on February 12.

"They volunteered to go back. They didn’t [give] any reason. They went back to their hometown. It was a man and a woman; they didn’t say they were unhappy. They have a right to stay or to leave, so if they enjoy staying in Cambodia, they stay; if they don’t want to, if they want to go back home, it’s up to them."

A Rohingya man who was also transferred from Nauru in 2015 returned home to Myanmar late last year. Two refugees remain in Cambodia under the deal.

The agreement has been widely criticised by refugee advocates and politicians, with Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young last year describing the $55 million cost as an "expensive return ticket".

But a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton today told SBS the government "holds firm on our policy that you if you arrive by boat then you can either return to your country of origin or be resettled in a third country".

Joe Lowry, Asia-Pacific Spokesperson for The International Organisation for Migration, which was assisting the refugees in Cambodia, said he could not comment on individual cases because of the IOM's "legal obligations to confidentiality".

But he said the IOM "continues to provide a range of comprehensive settlement services,  including employment, medical, psychological and language support".

"IOM cannot comment on the future of the programme as it is a the matter for the respective governments," he said.

"IOM continues to receive funding from the Government of Australia to implement settlement services in Cambodia but that funding has not amounted to $15 million given the limited number of refugees arriving from Nauru to date."

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