Bangkok: The fate of dozens of babies carried by Cambodian surrogate mothers for Australian biological parents is uncertain amid a crackdown on commercial surrogacy in Cambodia.
Authorities in the capital, Phnom Penh, have called a meeting for Thursday where Australian officials are expected to appeal to the Cambodian government to put in place transitional arrangements to protect babies, surrogate mothers and intending parents.
The Australian embassy asked Australian couples in the city who have babies born or on the way to go to the embassy on Monday with their paperwork to discuss the crisis.
Cambodia's Health Ministry issued a proclamation on October 24 banning commercial surrogacy, throwing into doubt the future of hundreds of surrogacy arrangements in the country that became the latest hub for surrogacy after booming commercial surrogacy industries in Thailand, India and Sri Lanka were shut down.
The Australian-based consultancy Families Through Surrogacy estimates that 70 babies of Australian couples have either been born or are being carried by surrogates in Cambodia.
Sam Everingham, the company's global director, said the situation that has emerged in Cambodia is "very concerning".
"There needs to be urgent clarity about surrogacy arrangements following the government's announcement of a ban," he said.
Five surrogate babies arranged through Fertility Solutions PGD, a business run by Melbourne nurse and fertility specialist Tammy Davis-Charles, have been taken from the country by their Australian biological parents, police say.
One case police have investigated involved a Cambodian surrogate who carried a baby for an Australian man, who has left the country with the baby.
Under normal worldwide procedures Australia recognises babies as Australian citizens after DNA tests link them to their Australian biological parents.
But Cambodia's crackdown has raised concerns that Australians will now face difficulties getting Cambodian clearance to take their babies home.
The country's legal system is murky and notoriously corrupt.
The uncertainty around Cambodia's surrogate-born babies is similar to that which arose in Bangkok when the Thai military government closed the industry there down in the wake of the Baby Gammy scandal in 2014.
The Thai government put in place special arrangements to allow more than 200 Australian couples with babies already born or who had entered into commercial arrangements with surrogate mothers to take their babies home after the Australian government made representations to Thai authorities.
Ms Davis-Charles, 49, has been detained by anti-human trafficking police since Friday and was due to face questioning in a Phnom Penh court on Monday over allegations relating to surrogacy and falsifying documents.
But the hearing was delayed because Ms Davis-Charles had spent Sunday night in hospital.
"Ms Tammy was not sick at all," said Colonel Keo Thea, head of Cambodia's anti-human trafficking office.
Ms Davis-Charles, from Melbourne, could face up to two years' jail on the charges which came after a 10-month investigation into her operation that allegedly recruited 23 Cambodian mothers to become surrogates.
Eighteen mothers are currently pregnant and five babies have left Cambodia with intending parents through her operation, police said.
Most of Ms Davis-Charles' intending parents are Australian couples.
Ms Davis-Charles, who has twin sons born through surrogacy, moved her surrogacy business from Thailand to Cambodia after the Gammy scandal.
The company's website posted on November 4 that "there are a lot of rumours floating around at present about Cambodia closing down, even the local newspaper(s) are starting to report it. The government are reviewing laws. Honestly it could go either way."
The Australian government's travel advisory smartraveller.gov.au warns the act of commercial surrogacy, or commissioning of commercial surrogacy, is illegal in Cambodia, with penalties including imprisonment and fines.