Canberra, November 14: The US will take in refugees, currently held in immigrant centres managed by the Australian government in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced, Sunday.
It remains unknown how many refugees of the 1600 detainees on Manus Island and Nauru, the US will accept. The centres are believed to hold asylum seekers from countries such as Iraq, Syria and Somalia, Efe news reported.
“I can now confirm that the government has now reached a further third-party resettlement arrangement. The agreement is with the US,” Turnbull told a press conference.
He did not say how many would be destined for the US, but predicted a “substantial” number would be eligible.
Turnbull said that this “one-off” deal would only apply to asylum seekers currently on Nauru and Manus Island, indicating a step-up in Australia’s coastline border protection.
As part of the refugee deal with the US, Australia had sought “additional maritime assets” in order to boost border patrols.
“We needed to put in place all of the on-water measures … to ensure that we were able to respond in the event that that people smugglers tried to use this as a marketing opportunity,” he said.
“We’d rather overcompensate in terms of our response capacity than under do it.”
Discussions on the deal, formally announced on Sunday, had been under way since January this year.
Turnbull highlighted that this agreement culminated from the “long history of cooperation on issues including national security” between Australia and the United States.
The US Secretary of State John Kerry, currently in Wellington on an official visit also announced the agreement.
Since 2012 Australia has been using the centres at Manus Island and Nauru to process asylum applications of immigrants, especially those intercepted in high seas while trying to reach the Australian coast.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told ABC that Australia was in “tentative conversation” with other countries for similar arrangements.
Meanwhile, opposition Leader Bill Shorten is opposing the move claiming that it would leave asylum seekers with lifetime ban into Australia, including on tourist or business visa.
Turnbull has earlier clarified that Immigration ministers would have discretionary powers to waive such a ban.
However, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Centre for Immigration Studies – a prominent US think tank, predicted a “firestorm” of opposition to the resettlement deal.
He told Fairfax Media, it is “the kind of thing the Trump administration will nix on day one”.
“I don’t expect any Republicans will defend it; I can’t see a lot of Democrats defending it either. My sense is that when the word gets out on this, it’ll be dead on arrival”.
But Turnbull was ‘confident’ that Donald Trump would honour the new asylum seeker deal.
Speaking to SkyNews, Mr Turnbull said that he had not raised the matter with incumbent president Trump, who has pledged to ban undocumented Mexican migration during his election campaign.
“I deal with one administration at a time,” Mr Turnbull said to Sky’s Chris Kenny, his former chief of staff.
“The United States government meets its commitments from one administration to another.”
Mr Turnbull is confident that the deal to hundreds of refugees in the US will not be wound back by President-elect Donald Trump after his oath of office next year.
The UN and other human rights groups have criticized these centres calling the conditions in which the detainees live as “inhuman”.