(AA) – A Muslim community leader has sought to play down an opposition politician’s claims that the arrival of Muslim refugees to Cambodia could stoke religious tensions.
Ahmad Yahya, president of the Cambodian Muslim Community Development Organization, told The Anadolu Agency on Sunday that any of Australia’s unwanted that come to Cambodian shores have just one thing on their mind – fleeing aggression at home.
“The refugees who come here, they only want to escape from the countries that have trouble—their own countries,” he told AA.
Son Chhay, a Buddhist member of Parliament for the Cambodia National Rescue Party, has claimed that those with extremist views could “stir up” tensions and influence the country’s peaceful Muslims toward more extremist views.
Speaking to AA on Sunday, he reinforced those remarks, saying he had observed a change in the Muslim community in Cambodia, which he attributed to influence from the Middle East.
“Muslims at large are assimilated, but we can see for the last few years that young Muslim women are covering up [by wearing the niqab] and showing only their eyes, so this can explain that even in a very hot environment like Cambodia, it could reflect that the influence is here now,” he said.
“It could be upsetting out peaceful harmony among all races here, and it’s something we have to take into consideration.”
Many of the refugees on the South Pacific island of Nauru—where Australia detains asylum seekers who try to reach its shores by boat—are Muslims and come from countries such as Iran and Afghanistan.
A $40-million deal signed last year between the Australian and Cambodian governments will see refugees there resettled in Cambodia, supposedly on a voluntary basis. The first charter flight is expected to leave a detention center in Nauru for Cambodia this coming week.
Some Rohingya Muslim refugees already live quietly in Cambodia, and there have never been any reports of tensions between them and Buddhists. Chhay, however, claims that the peaceful, side-by-side relationship between the two religions could experience an upheaval.
“Most of the refugees from Australia, some extremists are probably there, that’s why they won’t process in getting allowing through Australia,” he said, even though Australia refuses to accept as a refugee anyone who travels there by boat.
Chhay argues that that policy stems from “fear of extremists, as well.”
Yahya told AA on Sunday that while he respects Chhay’s opinion, the Muslim newcomers “don’t have anything to do with religious influence and become extremists to stir up our community and so on.”
“Those people want to go to European countries, not to come to Cambodia. But as you know, Cambodia had war before and everybody accepted Cambodian refugees,” he said.
“Now it is time to show to the world that we care about refugees the same, like the world cared about Cambodian refugees, so I’m really happy to receive any refugees, both Muslim and non-Muslim.”