At least one protester was knocked down by police, suffered a cut head and was dragged away during the protests, as more than 100 Cambodians demanded Canberra abandon the agreement.
Cambodia's Minister of Interior, Sar Kheng, told reporters in Cambodia on Friday that the resettlement deal, to be signed at a table in a bare meeting hall in Phnom Penh with a tiny Australian flag and a tiny Cambodian flag on the table, by Mr Morrison and Mr Kheng, will initially involve a small number of refugees moving to Cambodia under a pilot project.
Cambodian rights activists protest outside the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh. Cambodian rights activists protest outside the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh. Photo: AFP
"We will try to take four or five people, maybe two or three [initially]," he said. "We will keep working to ensure [the deal is in our interest]," he said.
Mr Morrison said the government was committing $40 million of aid over four years to the country, but claimed this was not tied to the resettlement deal.
"The most important thing we're giving them is our expertise," Mr Morrison told ABC News.
A Cambodian rights activist clashes with police at a protest outside the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh. A Cambodian rights activist clashes with police at a protest outside the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh. Photo: AFP
"Cambodia wants to be a country that can resettle refugees properly and they're seeking our advice and expertise on how we can do that. But in addition to that, and it's not driven by this I should stress, the Australian government will be providing over four years $40 million to support various overseas development aid projects."
But the plan has provoked growing criticism in Cambodia where dozens of people protested outside the Australian embassy on Friday.
A coalition of 21 Cambodian organisations promoting human rights called the agreement a cynical deal that will commit refugees who have already endured harsh conditions to further uncertainty and hardship.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison in Phnom Penh. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison in Phnom Penh. Photo: REUTERS
The rights organisations said the agreement contravenes the 1951 Refugee Convention because Australia cannot ensure that once the refugees reach Cambodia they will be afforded any of the fundamental human rights protection that is taken for granted in Australia.
In Sophy, a mother of four from Kampong Chhnang province, told Fairfax Media that Cambodians deserve a better and decent life.
"We are poor people. Why accept refugees?" she said.
Eighty-three families from Kampong Chhnang travelled to Phnom Penh to protest, many of them victims of land grabs by powerful and wealthy Cambodians.
Human rights activist Yom Bopha demanded the Cambodian government take responsibility for its own people who are "suffering."
Mao Pises, president of the Federation of Cambodian Intellectual Students, said the refugees will take jobs away from Cambodian students and intellectuals.
"This may cause trouble in Cambodian society," he said.
Mr Mao Pises said he believed that "greedy government officials" will corruptly siphon Australian money that is supposed to help the refugees.
The protesters left a petition at the embassy that said many Cambodians do not have enough rice each day to fill their cookers.
"The Cambodian government is not able to make its own people happy so why does it dare sign an agreement with Australia to accept refugees?" it read.
International development agencies and church groups have also questioned how the money offered will not be pocketed by the Hun Sen regime.
"The $40 million being paid to the Cambodia government will end up in the pockets of the senior ministers who have done this secret deal with Australia, not for the resettlement of refugees nor for aid projects," Misha Coleman, the spokeswoman for the Churches Refugee Taskforce said.
Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles has repeatedly called for more detail on the deal to be released.
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young says the plan could see children and women refugees become victims of sex and labour trafficking, which is rampant in the country.
"My primary concern is for the young, unaccompanied girls on Nauru who simply won't be safe in Cambodia," Ms Hanson-Young said.
"Human rights organisations have said the incidence of rape and sexual exploitation is on the rise in Cambodia, especially for girls and young women. The moment these girls step off the plane, they will be put at risk."
Mr Morrison rejected criticism about the plan on Friday, saying his domestic opponents were prematurely judging the deal before seeing the detail.
"They have adversely judged this arrangement before even knowing its contents," Mr Morrison said. "As always, we will just get on with the job, and focus on getting results. The merits of this arrangement will best be assessed on its implementation."