POLITICS

Detainees From Nauru, Manus Island To Be Resettled In US

The federal government has inked a refugee deal with the US.

13/11/2016 9:42 AM AEDT | Updated 13/11/2016 10:58 PM AEDT
Stringer . / Reuters
The PM says a resettlement deal has been agreed with the US to shift asylum seekers to America.

The federal government has announced a one-off deal with the US to resettle refugees from Manus Island and Nauru detention centres in America, in a move that refugee advocates say could be jeopardised by a Trump presidency.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stayed tight lipped when asked if he informed President-elect Donald Trump of the deal during their phone conversation after his election victory.

"You only deal with one administration at a time," Turnbull told Chris Kenny on Sky News on Sunday night.

The Prime Minister said negotiations started early this year with current U.S. President Barack Obama.

"The discussions began in January -- there was a long lead up," Turnbull said.

Speaking in Canberra earlier today, Turnbull told reporters the deal would not be repeated, and was open only to those currently being held in the controversial regional processing centres.

He said the agreement would be administered with the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and that officials from the US Department of Homeland Security would shortly kick off the process.

"I can now confirm that the government has reached a further third country resettlement arrangement for refugees presently in the regional processing centres," Turnbull said alongside Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

"The agreement is with the United States. It is a one-off agreement. It will not be repeated," Turnbull said.

"It will not be available to any persons who seek to reach Australia in the future. Our priority is the resettlement of women, children and families. This will be an orderly process. It will take time. It will not be rushed."

He said those on Nauru and Manus not offered refugee protection "should return to their home country".

Asked if he was worried about shipping refugees to a "Trump America", Turnbull said Australia had a very long history of dealing with the US on humanitarian issues. He refused to be drawn on whether the deal could fall over with Trump set to take the presidency in 2017, saying Australia dealt with one US administration at a time.

Dutton said the government was finalising with Nauru a "20-year visa" for detainees locked up on the tiny Pacific nation who refused to go to the US.

He said the treatment of those granted 20-years Nauru visas would be equal to that provided to Nauruan citizens and that the federal government would not provide any money to those left on the island.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten welcomed the plan. "This is the very thing we wanted with the Malaysia Solution some years ago," he said in Melbourne.

"It has taken the current government three plus years to negotiate this one-off deal but we are pleased if it means an end to indefinite detention," Shorten added.

The Greens, meanwhile, described the government's plan as an "admission that offshore detention has to end, but still leaves people on Manus Island and Nauru facing an uncertain future".

Sunday's announcement was widely expected and follows negotiations between the government and other nations to resolve the fate of hundreds of people on the 2 islands.

It comes after surprise revelations in September that the government would resettle South American refugees from a processing centre in Costa Rica -- the initial spark of talk of a people swap deal with the US.

Visiting New Zealand, US secretary of state John Kerry earlier preempted the announcement, saying his nation was considering resettling detainees from the 2 locations.

Kerry reportedly described the refugee crisis as a "pressing, pressing issue".

"We, the United States, have agreed to consider referrals from UNHCR on refugees now residing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea," he's quoted by the ABC as saying.

"We are encouraging all countries to work with UNHCR, as we are going ... to find a durable solution for these refugees."

The Human Rights Law Centre said the deal with the US to take the refugees stranded on Manus and Nauru was a step in the right direction.

"After three years of fear, limbo and harm, it looks like the government is finally acknowledging that Nauru and Manus are dead ends. That concession is important and long overdue," the centre's Daniel Webb said early Sunday.

According to the Human Rights Law Centre, there are 941 currently people on Nauru and 675 on Manus Island who have been accepted as refugees, while there are around 500 people whose refugee status hasn't yet been confirmed. There are another 320 asylum seekers already in Australia for medical treatment from the two facilities.

Ian Rintoul, a spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, says it is an admission that Nauru and Manus Island are offshore dead-ends.

"But the deal still leaves the future of asylum seekers and refugees up in the air," Rintoul told The Huffington Post Australia.

Rintoul has spoken to refugees on both Manus and Nauru since the government's announcement.

"They are confused about what it means," he said.

"On Manus Island, the [refugees] are so use to being disappointed after having they're hopes raised. So, for them it's business as usual."

The activist says there has been mixed responses from refugees on Nauru.

"Some people are pleased they are finally talking about shifting people off the island," Rintoul said.

"Others who have family in Australia have no interest in going to the United States."

Rintoul says President-elect Donald Trump puts a question mark on the deal.

"It is inconceivable it will be processed by January 20. Turnbull says we have to deal with one president at time. The truth is they will need to deal with Trump," he said.

"There is a huge question on whether single men will be accepted."

Rintoul says that the government's push for a lifetime-ban on people attempting to arrive to Australia by boat is creating global second class citizens.

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