THE United States and Australia are close to announcing a deal in which the United States will resettle hundreds of asylum seekers banished by Australia to Pacific island camps, a newspaper said.
The Australian newspaper reported on Friday that the U.S. has agreed to accept up to 1,800 refugees held for up to three years at Australia’s expense in camps on the impoverished island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
The paper said the deal would effectively end Australia’s offshore detention of asylum-seekers after months of negotiations with third countries in the bid to prevent them from gaining access into the country.
The camps have long been condemned by human rights groups as an abrogation of Australia’s responsibilities as a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention.
Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull declined to comment on negotiations with the US.
Most of the asylum seekers are Muslims from the Middle East, Africa and Asia and some of them placed in Nauru have been on the island for more than two years.
The US government, the paper said, is expected to make an announcement under outgoing President Barack Obama’s administration and comes only days after Donald Trump is voted into office.
Yesterday, the Australian House of Representatives passed a bill on a lifetime visa ban for adults who attempted to enter Australia illegally by boat since July 2013. The bill is headed to the senate.
Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton have argued that the lifetime visa ban would deter people-smuggling.
On Thursday, Dutton said the new border protection laws were designed to prevent boats from reaching Australia and deaths at sea.
“The legislation before parliament is an important measure which sends a clear message to the people-smugglers and their clients that should they attempt to come illegally by boat that they will never settle in Australia,” he was quoted as saying.
“It would prevent any illegal maritime arrival taken to a regional processing country since 19 July, 2013, from ever coming to Australia and warn the estimated 14,000 people in Indonesia and the thousands more beyond that any illegal boat journey to Australia would be futile.”
In late October, Turnbull said the government is seeking to amend the 1958 Migration Act to prevent irregular maritime arrivals taken to any regional processing country from being able to apply for an Australian visa, even if they are listed as refugees.
The proposed law would affect up to 3,000 people presently at the detention center or in Australia for medical treatment, as well as the thousands of others who have since returned to their home countries – they will not be allowed to ever enter Australia, be it as tourists, to do business, or as an Australian’s spouse.
Turnbull’s proposal came just weeks after global rights group Amnesty International released a damning report that documented the alleged abuse and mental torture suffered by refugees taken to Nauru.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press