Australia has struck a deal with the U.S. to resettle asylum seekers being held on Manus Island and Nauru.
The agreement is a one-off that will be available only to refugees currently in processing centers, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in Canberra on Sunday. The priority will be the resettlement of women, children and families, and would exclude those deemed to be economic refugees, he said.
The resettlement deal was struck with the current U.S. administration, Turnbull said, refusing to be drawn on how it may be affected by the election victory of Donald Trump, who vowed during the Presidential campaign to stop the entry of refugees and other migrants from the Muslim world.
Turnbull’s Liberal-National coalition won power in 2013 vowing to stop a surge of refugees, some of whom drowned attempting to arrive in Australia by sea, often ferried in rickety boats by people smugglers from Indonesia. While the policy of sending them to Manus Island and Nauru has halted the flow, and cut the number of refugees drowning at sea, it has been condemned by bodies such as the United Nations for breaching human rights.
In an effort to deter boat arrivals resuming, Turnbull said resettlement will not be offered to any future asylum seekers.
“We need to send the clearest and most unequivocal message to people smugglers and their would-be passengers that if they seek to come to Australia unlawfully, they will not succeed,” Turnbull said, adding that boats will be intercepted and turned back. “Australia’s border protection policy has not changed.”
Refugees who refuse to be resettled will be sent to the Pacific island of Nauru. The Australian government is in talks with Nauru to offer a 20-year visa to refugees. Turnbull said people who aren’t deemed to be genuine refugees should return to their homeland.There are 396 asylum seekers on Nauru and 873 on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, according to the Sunday Telegraph.
Secretary of State John Kerry earlier confirmed the U.S will consider resettling asylum seekers from Australia.
Speaking in New Zealand, Kerry said the refugee crisis was a “pressing issue,” the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
U.S. authorities will conduct their own assessments of the refugees, including health and security checks, to decide who will be resettled.
The agreement was welcomed by the United Nations High Commissioner for 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,” the UNHCR said in a statement. The deal
“reflects a much-needed, long-term solution,” the agency said.