U.S., Australia reach deal to relocate some refugees in offshore camps

The Australian government has struck a deal with the United States to clear its controversial offshore refugee camps, which have faced widespread criticism due to the treatment of asylum-seekers who have not been let into Australia because of the nation's tight immigration policy. Photo by Dan Peled/European Press Agency

SYDNEY, Nov. 13 (UPI) — Australia and the United States have reached a “one-off” deal to resettle some of the hundreds of asylum-seekers being held at controversial immigration camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea to the United States.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made the announcement in Sydney; U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed it at a separate press conference in New Zealand.

The Australian government came under increased pressure to resolve the immigration standoff after confining would-be asylum-seekers from Indonesia to camps in Naura and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The undocumented immigrants were attempting to reach Australia by boat from Indonesia and were intercepted by the Australian Navy. They were then taken to the camps, where they have remained while a political solution was sought.

“I can now confirm that the government has now reached a further third-party resettlement arrangement,” Turnbull said, according to The Guardian. “The agreement is with the United States. It is a one-off agreement. It will not be repeated. It is only available to those currently in the regional processing centers.”

The leaders did not say whether the deal includes Australia agreeing to take in any U.S.-held refugees in Costa Rica, where a similar situation has developed from people fleeing violence in South America attempting to reach the United States.

Turnbull’s government fast-tracked legislation making it illegal for asylum-seekers who arrive by boat to be granted visas, a move he said was meant to crack down on the human trafficking rings that offer to ferry Indonesians to Australia illegally for large sums of money. The voyages are extremely dangerous and have resulted in numerous deaths at sea. The law also addressed concerns by immigration hardliners in Australia upset over undocumented immigrants arriving on Australian shores from Southeast Asia.

Kerry said the United States has agreed to begin vetting the asylum-seekers, but had not agreed to take a specific number. About 1,800 people are believed to be living in the two camps combined.

“We in the United States have agreed to consider referrals from [the United Nations Human Rights Council] on refugees now residing in Nauru and in Papua New Guinea,” Kerry said, according to the New Zealand Herald.

U.S. immigration officials were set to arrive at the camps in the coming days, with a priority for vetting women, children and families being held there in less-than-optimal conditions. The camps open-air tent cities are overcrowded and lack proper sanitation.

The refugees will be referred to U.S. Customs and Immigration as asylum-seekers through the United Nations. Any of the refugees who are offered asylum in the United States and refuse would be granted 20-year visas to stay in Manus, officials said.


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