US to resettle Australia’s refugees languishing on islands
The United States has agreed to resettle an unspecified number of refugees languishing in Pacific island camps in a deal that is expected to inspire more asylum seekers to attempt to reach Australia by boat, officials said on Sunday. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull would not say whether he had discussed the deal with President-elect Donald Trump during their telephone conversation on Thursday. The Obama administration had agreed to resettle refugees among almost 1,300 asylum seekers held at Australia’s expense on the island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Another 370 who came to Australia for medical treatment then refused to return to the islands would also be eligible.
“We deal with one administration at a time and there is only one president of the United States at a time,” Turnbull told reporters.
Trump has called for a moratorium or tight restrictions on Muslim immigration. Most of the asylum seekers are Muslims from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. US Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that the United States had “agreed to consider referrals” from the United Nations refugee agency on Australia’s refugees. “We are going to work to protect vulnerable refugees around the world, and we’ll share that responsibility with our friends in the regions that are most affected by this challenge,” Kerry told reporters in New Zealand. Australia refuses to resettle any refugee who has arrived by boat since the date the tough policy was announced on July 19, 2013. Australia pays Nauru and Papua New Guinea to house boat arrivals and has been searching for countries that will resettle them.
Few refugees have accepted offers to resettle in Papua New Guinea and Cambodia because most hope that Australia will eventually take them in. Any refugee who refuses to go to the US would be given a 20-year visa to stay on Nauru, a tiny impoverished atoll with a population of 10,000 people, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said. The Refugee Council of Australia, an advocacy group, welcomed the deal as a vital first step in ending the indefinite detention of asylum seekers on the islands. London-based rights group Amnesty International accused Australia of taking “an extreme step in shirking responsibility.” US Department of Homeland Security officials are expected in Australia this week to begin assessing refugees. Turnbull would not say how many refugees the United States might take, but said the most vulnerable would be given priority. “Our priority is the resettlement of woman, children and families,” Turnbull said. “This will be an orderly process. It will take time. It will not be rushed.” Refugees who arrive in the future would not be sent to the United States, he said. “We anticipate that people smugglers will seek to use this agreement as a marketing opportunity to tempt vulnerable people onto these perilous sea journeys,” Turnbull said. — AP
MANUS ISLAND, PAPUA NEW GUINEA: In this Aug. 2, 2013, photo, a group of asylum seekers hold up their identity after landing.—AP