After roughly four years spent in an offshore Australian detention center on the remote island of Manus, a group of 54 refugees will be processed for resettlement in the United States over the coming weeks.
Reuters reports that “several dozen Central American refugees” will first be settled in Australia under the deal, which was made under the Obama administration. The agreement allowed for up to 1,250 people held in detention centers on the Pacific Islands of Manus and Nauru to be resettled in the United States, provided they pass required vetting. In exchange, Central American refugees in camps in Costa Rica would be resettled in Australia.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, it might take another year for the United States to accept all of the refugees, assuming that they all pass vetting. “Even if they do move rapidly and they take a significant number of people, which is still not certain, there are still going to be many hundreds of people left behind,” an Australian immigration spokesman told the paper.
The detention center on Manus is due to close on October 31, which increases pressure on authorities to clear the facility. Australian authorities have yet to announce what kind of alternative arrangements it will make for the roughly 800 refugees who will remain there after that deadline.
Sources told Reuters that the first group to be resettled will include some Rohingya men — the Muslim minority now being subjected to a violent crackdown in Myanmar — and at least three men from Sudan.
Although Iranians make up roughly one-third of the detainees in Manus, they have not been mentioned in initial reports of the exchange. Ian Rintol, spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, told Reuters that only 10 percent of those interviewed for vetting so far have been Iranians. “It seems there had been some discriminatory selection,” he said.
Trump has called the deal, struck by Barack Obama, “stupid,” “rotten,” and “an embarrassment.” He berated Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in a phone conversation shortly after taking office in January, and the transcript of that call clearly shows that Trump has no idea how many people might be resettled in the United States, where they are from, and why they are there in the first place.
In that call, Trump compares the refugees on Manus and Nauru to terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks in 2001 as well as the San Bernadino shooters responsible for the deadly 2015 attack.
“I hate taking these people. I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now. They are not going to be wonderful people who go on to work for the local milk people,” Trump said, before going on to complain that accepting the refugees would not fit in with his executive order suspending and cutting back refugee resettlement in the United States.
In his speech before a stunned United Nations General Assembly (in which he threatened war against North Korea) on Tuesday, Trump reiterated that his vision for helping refugees doesn’t involve resettling them in the United States:
We seek an approach to refugee resettlement that is designed to help these horribly treated people, and which enables their eventual return to their home countries, to be part of the rebuilding process.
For the cost of resettling one refugee in the United States, we can assist more than 10 in their home region. Out of the goodness of our hearts, we offer financial assistance to hosting countries in the region, and we support recent agreements of the G20 nations that will seek to host refugees as close to their home countries as possible. This is the safe, responsible, and humanitarian approach.
But the U.N. certainly supports resettlement of the refugees — its refugee agency, the UNHCR, is helping Australian authorities with the process. In fact, the U.N. and rights groups have condemned the deplorable conditions at the Manus and Nauru facilities.
Australia has been criticized for years over its decision to keep refugees in offshore prison facilities (sometimes forcing them to stay on boats for up to a month) denying them medical help and for a time, issuing a gag order against medical workers who did manage to treat the refugees. The country has also paid human traffickers to turn away boats carrying refugees.