Refugees held on controversial remote Pacific camps will be resettled in the United States in a “one-off” deal, Australia’s prime minister said on Sunday, stressing that his nation’s tough immigration policy was not changing.
Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat to detention facilities on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru. They are blocked from resettling in Australia even if found to be refugees.
Conditions in the camps have been widely criticised by refugee advocates and medical professionals, who say some asylum-seekers suffer from mental health problems due to their prolonged, indefinite detention.
“The arrangements with the United States will offer the opportunity for refugees, both on Nauru and Manus, to be resettled,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.
“It is a one-off agreement. It will not be repeated… Our priority is the resettlement of women, children and families.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in New Zealand, confirmed the arrangement, adding that “we in the United States have agreed to consider referrals from (UN refugee body) UNHCR on refugees now residing in Nauru and in Papua New Guinea”.
“We know that these refugees are of special interest to UNHCR and we’re very engaged with them on a humanitarian basis there and in other parts of the world,” he told reporters Sunday.
It was not clear if the deal would be honoured by the incoming Republican administration, with President-elect Donald Trump previously saying on the campaign trail that he would crack down on immigration.
Turnbull would not say how many refugees would be offered US resettlement or whether the arrangements would continue under Trump.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said asylum-seekers whose refugee applications are rejected would be expected to return to their home country.
Refugees who are offered the US move but reject it would be offered a 20-year Nauru visa instead. Any future boat arrivals will not be eligible for the deal.
Dutton stressed the deal was not an incentive for people-smugglers to send more asylum-seekers by boat to Australia, with Canberra set to ramp up its marine border patrols to turn back vessels.
Some 675 asylum-seekers on Manus and 941 on Nauru out of more than 2000 applications have been successful in obtaining initial or final refugee status, the immigration department said earlier this month.
Canberra has long defended its policy of denying asylum-seekers resettlement in Australia, saying it has prevented deaths at sea.
© 2016 AFP
Article source: http://www.france24.com/en/20161113-refugees-australias-remote-camps-offered-us-resettlement