US Homeland Security officials have begun “extreme vetting” interviews at Australia’s offshore detention centres, two sources at the camps told Reuters on Tuesday, as Washington honours a refugee swap US President Donald Trump had called “a dumb deal”.
The Trump administration said last month the agreement to offer refuge to up to 1,250 asylum seekers in the centres would progress on condition that refugees satisfied strict checks.
In exchange, Australia has pledged to take Central American refugees from a centre in Costa Rica, where the United States has expanded intake in recent years, under the deal struck with former President Barack Obama.
The first security interviews finished last week at Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island detention centre, two refugees who went through the process told Reuters.
The refugees told Reuters that interviews began with an oath to God to tell the truth and then proceeded for as long as six hours, with in-depth questions on associates, family, friends and any interactions with the Islamic State militant group.
Manus Island is one of two Australian-operated detention centres, which hold nearly 1,300 people who were intercepted trying to reach Australia by boat.
Human rights groups have condemned the intercept policy and the harsh conditions of the camps. Australia says offshore processing is needed as a deterrent after thousands of people drowned at sea before the policy was introduced in 2013.
A decision on the fate of the first 70 people interviewed is expected to be reached within the next month, a different source who works with refugees said.
A spokesman for Australia’s immigration minister refused to comment on the resettlement process.
The US State Department and White House did not immediately respond to questions.
US President Donald Trump’s plans for extreme vetting have extended to those travelling to the United States from Muslim countries.
Australia’s relationship with the new administration in Washington got off to a rocky start when Trump lambasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over the resettlement arrangement, which Trump labelled a “dumb deal”.
Details of an acrimonious phone call between the pair soon after Trump took office made headlines around the world. Australia is one of Washington’s staunchest allies and has sent troops to fight alongside the US military in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. – Reuters