US to take Australia's unwelcome refugees

Australia announces breakthrough refugee deal with US circumventing island nation’s tough immigration policy stalemate

US to take Australia's unwelcome refugees

World Bulletin / News Desk

Australia and the United States have entered into an agreement that will see refugees who are detained in regional processing centers on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Manus Island resettled in America.

Speaking in Canberra on Sunday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull -- standing alongside Immigration Minister Peter Dutton -- told reporters that the deal is a “one-off” and has been preceded by many months of planning.

“This [further] agreement is with the United States and it will not under any circumstance be available to any future illegal maritime arrivals to Australia,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s office said.

Australia classifies asylum seekers who arrive by boat or plane without valid visas “illegal”.

The ABC reports that currently there are 872 people in Australia’s processing center on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and 390 people in the Nauru center. Australia’s immigration policy forbids any former Manus and Nauru detainee from ever settling in Australia.

To date, the detainees’ only options have been to return to their country of origin -- from which they fled -- or those with approved refugee status on Nauru have been offered resettlement in Cambodia.

Turnbull said the U.S. deal would only apply to those currently on the islands.

While the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed support for the U.S. resettlement arrangement in an official statement issued Sunday, it slammed Australia’s “offshore processing” for “failing refugees”.

“The approach taken by Australia in transferring refugees and asylum- seekers to open-ended detention in Papua New Guinea and Nauru has caused immense harm to vulnerable people who have sought asylum since 2013. In this context, UNHCR welcomes the announcement today that refugees currently held in Nauru and Papua New Guinea will be relocated under a bilateral arrangement between Australia and the United States,” the statement reads.

The official statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office notes that priority for resettlement will be given to “those who are most vulnerable, namely women, children and families”.

U.S. authorities are due to arrive in Australia in the next few days to begin conducting their own assessment of refugees and decide which are to be resettled in the U.S.

During the media conference, Turnbull would not be drawn on whether U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will honor the deal.

Trump called for a ban on Muslim immigration during his election campaign, and many of the people detained on Manus and Nauru are reportedly from predominantly Muslim countries including Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.

Amnesty International describes the U.S. resettlement arrangement as “an extreme step in shirking responsibility by the Australian Government”.

“It is absolutely shameful that the Australian Government has first sent several thousand people to languish for three years on Nauru and Manus Island, set up an offshore processing regime on Nauru that amounts to torture and is now passing the buck when it comes to offering them protection,” said Graham Thom, refugee coordinator at Amnesty International Australia.

“Amnesty International has seen first hand the horrific abuse that is being inflicted on people in Nauru and on Manus Island, so we are pleased that for those who may be resettled in the U.S. the abuse will come to an end and we acknowledge the U.S. for giving people a genuine chance at settling and restarting their lives in a safe place.”

Amnesty expressed “extreme concern” about the lack of information provided by the Australian government around the timeline of this deal taking place and lack of clarity around the numbers of people who will be given the opportunity to settle in the U.S.

Dutton told the Canberra media gathering that the government is in final stages of negotiation with Nauru for a 20-year visa.

The visa will apply to people who refuse the settlement offer in the U.S. and choose to remain on Nauru.

Amnesty raised serious concerns around the announcement of the visa, “given the well-documented systematic mistreatment, attacks, discrimination and inadequate medical care experienced for years by the hundreds of people warehoused by the Australian Government on Nauru”.

The announcement by Turnbull and Dutton followed a comment by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry confirming he has agreed to consider referrals from the UNHCR on refugees who are being detained in Australia’s offshore detention centers.

Early Sunday, Kerry told a press conference in Wellington the U.S. was encouraging all countries to work with the UN to find a “durable solution” for refugees -- describing the issue as having been a key focus of the leaders summit in New York in September.

“We in the United States have agreed to consider referrals from UNHCR on refugees now residing in Nauru and in Papua New Guinea,” Kerry said.

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Last Mod: 13 Kasım 2016, 10:55
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