Refugee deal Trump once crit­i­cized now in ‘fi­nal stages’

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY ROD MCGURK

CAN­BERRA, AUS­TRALIA | U.S. of­fi­cials are “in the fi­nal stages” of vet­ting up to 1,250 refugees re­jected by Aus­tralia for re­set­tle­ment in the United States, an Aus­tralian of­fi­cial said Wed­nes­day — an agree­ment worked by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion that was fiercely crit­i­cized by Pres­i­dent Trump.

The refugees are among hun­dreds of asy­lum seek­ers mostly from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka who have been lan­guish­ing for up to four years in im­mi­gra­tion camps on the im­pov­er­ished Pa­cific is­land na­tions of Pa­pua New Guinea and Nauru.

Im­mi­gra­tion and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion Min­is­ter Peter Dutton said U.S. State and Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment of­fi­cials should be com­mended for their ef­fec­tive work with the Aus­tralian, Pa­pua New Guinea and Nauru gov­ern­ments to ful­fill a prom­ise by Pres­i­dent Obama to take up to 1,250 refugees off Aus­tralia’s hands.

“There’s no de­lay in the process,” Mr. Dutton told re­porters. “It’s in the fi­nal stages and I’m very pleased that hope­fully as soon as pos­si­ble we can get peo­ple ... off the is­lands.”

Mr. Dutton de­clined to out­line any de­tails of that process or say when the first refugees were likely to leave the is­lands. Home­land Se­cu­rity did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on Wed­nes­day.

Pres­i­dent Trump be­rated Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull dur­ing their first tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion as national lead­ers in Jan­uary over the deal, which Mr. Trump de­scribed in a late-night tweet as “dumb.”

Mr. Trump said the refugees would be sub­jected to “ex­treme vet­ting” be­fore they were ac­cepted. There are few de­tails on what that would en­tail.

Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence as­sured Mr. Turn­bull dur­ing a visit to Aus­tralia in April that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will honor the deal, but “that doesn’t mean we admire the agree­ment.”

Refugee Ac­tion Coali­tion spokesman Ian Rin­toul, an Aus­tralia-based ad­vo­cate, said he had been told that U.S. of­fi­cials had in­ter­viewed around 600 asy­lum seek­ers and con­ducted more than 200 med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tions on Nauru. They had in­ter­viewed 300 at the men-only fa­cil­ity at Pa­pua New Guinea’s Manus Is­land and com­pleted 70 med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tions, he said.

“We are get­ting close to some peo­ple be­ing taken from Nauru,” Mr. Rin­toul said.

Aus­tralia will not set­tle any refugees who try to ar­rive by boat — a pol­icy that the gov­ern­ment says dis­suades asy­lum seek­ers from at­tempt­ing the dan­ger­ous and oc­ca­sion­ally deadly ocean cross­ing from In­done­sia. Aus­tralia in­stead pays Pa­pua New Guinea and Nauru to house asy­lum seek­ers in camps that have been plagued by re­ports of abuse and dra­co­nian con­di­tions.

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