Refugees in Aussie camps get US option
REFUGEES held on remote Pacific camps after trying to reach Australia by boat will be resettled in the US in a “one-off” deal, a breakthrough that could see the facilities closed.
Canberra sends asylum seekers who try to reach Australia by boat to detention facilities on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru.
“The arrangements with the United States will offer the opportunity for refugees, both on Nauru and Manus, to be resettled,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.
“It is a one-off agreement. It will not be repeated.”
Successive Australian governments have sought to stem waves of boat migration by people from war-torn Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and the Middle East, using harsh policies including turning back the vessels, and strict secrecy about operations on the high seas and at the camps.
The latest policies by the current conservative government have largely stopped arrivals, but conditions in the camps have been widely criticised.
Activists say asylum seekers suffer from mental health problems due to prolonged, indefinite detention.
The UNHCR said the arrangement was a “much-needed, longterm solution” but warned that options should be found for everyone on Manus and Nauru.
“This announcement is full of holes. No timeframe. No numbers,” added Daniel Webb from the Human Rights Law Centre, which has challenged offshore detention in court.
“This ugly chapter in our history only closes when every single man, woman and child suffering at our government’s hand on Nauru and Manus is rebuilding their lives in safety. No one can be left behind.”
The arrangement followed the announcement in September that Australia would join a US-led program to resettle Central American refugees at a Costa Rica centre.
Mr Turnbull could not say how many refugees would be offered US resettlement or if the incoming Donald Trump administration would agee.
President-elect Trump had said that he would tighten immigration, particularly for Muslims.
US Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed the deal, adding that “we in the US have agreed to consider referrals from [UN refugee body] UNHCR on refugees now residing in Nauru and in Papua New Guinea”.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said those whose applications are rejected are expected to return home.
Refugees who are offered the US move but reject it would be offered a 20-year Nauru visa, while any future boat arrivals will not be eligible for the deal. –
Malcolm Turnbull says this is a oneoff agreement.