US to re­set­tle Aus­tralia’s refugees lan­guish­ing on is­lands

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

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

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