Eight months after the Abbott government signed a cash-for-people pact with Cambodia to take genuine refugees from offshore detention centres for resettlement, the deal remains shrouded in confusion.

Taxpayers are stumping up countless tens of millions of dollars for the privilege, but while Immigration Minister Peter Dutton claimed yesterday that refugees are heading to Cambodia as early as this week, the Cambodian government claimed on Monday to know nothing of any applicants. It’s a shemozzle.

What we do know is that the Immigration department is putting incredible pressure on refugees to take up the Australian government’s offer of cash payments, free food, decent housing and education — in Cambodia — for four years. In the embarrassingly un-factual “fact sheet” that the government issued to Manus detainees, it was made clear that only the first wave of those taking up the offer would get the bumper package — a veiled threat to those who opt to stay.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has refused to have any part of this pact from the word go. It understands how Cambodia treats refugees — the country has a track record of returning them to certain imprisonment and probable death in countries such as Vietnam and China.

Just when you think a government can’t sink to greater depths in their treatment of refugees, they find a new low.

Peter Fray

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