Australia gave a former Nauru detainee $98,000 to settle in Cambodia. He says that’s not enough

Abdullah Zalghani fled Syria with his wife and children in 2011, but left them in Lebanon while he tried to reach Australia.

His boat from Indonesia was stopped on the way to Australia in 2013, and he was detained on Christmas Island and Nauru.

In 2016, Mr Zalghani agreed to be resettled in Cambodia.

In exchange he was to receive a package of cash and payments to a bank account totalling $60,000, as well as in-kind assistance, mostly provided by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

His wife and four children joined him in Phnom Penh in December.

Yasmin Zalghani and Abdullah embrace and laugh together on a street in Phnom Penh.

Abdullah Zalghani told the ABC in May that the Australian Government had reneged on promises to provide “local private school” for up to four years and health insurance for up to five years for his children.

“It’s difficult here — my kids cannot go to school,” Mr Zalghani said at the time.

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs said it would not comment on an individual case.

However, after the ABC published the story, the Department of Home Affairs sent a further statement on June 12 saying Mr Zalghani was given a lump sum to fund schooling and health for his children.

“It was emphasised to Mr Zalghana that it was his responsibility to use the lump sum to cover his family’s health, education and other expenses as he saw fit,” said a spokesperson for the Department, using a different spelling of his name.

“Mr Zalghana acknowledged this would be the last payment, and that he and his family were settled and established in Cambodia,” said the Department spokesperson.

Teens sitting on couches looking at their phones

The Department also said that Mr Zalghani and his family were allowed to stay at temporary accommodation provided by the IOM for longer than the initially agreed period of three months.

“During this time IOM supported the family to carry out renovation works on their permanent accommodation to ensure it was suitable for the whole family,” the spokesperson said.

“The Australian Government has honoured all of its commitments to Mr Zalghana,” the Department said.

Mr Zalghani says money will not cover his costs

Abdullah Zalghani stands outside his restaurant in Cambodia

This month, Abdullah Zalghani told the ABC he did receive a lump sum in 2018.

“Yes, I received $38,350, but this amount is not for health insurance and study, because study and health insurance for four to five years is much higher than this amount,” said Mr Zalghani.

Mr Zalghani said he signed a document accepting the payment before he understood how much education and health insurance costs in Cambodia.

The cost of private schools vary greatly in Phnom Penh — from small, locally-run single classrooms for a few hundred dollars a year, to the very top level of international education, priced at tens of thousand of dollars annually.

The International School of Phnom Penh, favoured by Australian diplomats, costs between $26,000 and $31,000 per child, depending on their age.

Mr Zalghani told the ABC he was looking at schools which charge around $2,800 a year for each child.

He estimated that health insurance for the whole family would cost around $7,000 a year.

At these prices, the total cost for education and health insurance as per the Australian agreement would be $79,800.

The refugee said he spent some of the $38,000 lump sum repaying debts to relatives who looked after his wife and children while he was held in detention.

“I returned the money to those who were helping my family in the absence of seven years,” Mr Zalghani told the ABC.

Some of the money was also spent setting up a restaurant in Phnom Penh, but the business lost money and was sold to a Cambodian earlier this year, he said.

The refugee’s case has been taken up by the National Justice Project, which has formally requested the Commonwealth comply with its undertakings to Mr Zalghani.

Dan Mori, the lawyer for Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks, visited Abdullah Zalghani in Phnom Penh to assist him and take instructions.

Only two other refugees have permanently resettled in Cambodia — another Syrian man and a Rohingya man.

The resettlement deal with Cambodia cost Australian taxpayers $55 million, with $40 million as aid to the Cambodian government and $15 million to the IOM to provide services.

The IOM will officially end all Australian-funded support services to these three refugees on Sunday.

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