CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia was disappointed that hundreds of its rejected refugees would not begin resettling in the United States this month under a deal that predates President Donald Trump's administration, an official said on Friday.
President Barack Obama's administration agreed to accept up to 1,250 refugees among hundreds of asylum seekers — mostly from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka — who have been languishing for up to four years in immigration camps on the impoverished Pacific island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton said Australia wanted the refugees to start moving in July, but the United States had already filled its 50,000 refugee quota for the current fiscal year.
"We're disappointed that they haven't been able to move this month, which was my hope, but their new program year starts on Oct. 1, and we're working with both the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that we can get people off as quickly as possible," Dutton told reporters.
Trump berated Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during their first telephone conversation as national leaders in January over the deal which Trump described in a tweet as "dumb."
Trump said the refugees would be subjected to "extreme vetting" before they were accepted. There are few details on what that would entail.
Australia will not settle any refugees who try to arrive by boat — a policy that the government says dissuades asylum seekers from attempting the dangerous and occasionally deadly ocean crossing from Indonesia. Australia instead pays Papua New Guinea and Nauru to house asylum seekers in camps that have been plagued by reports of abuse and draconian conditions.
Dutton said he was determined to close the men-only camp on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea by the end of October. Asylum seekers on Manus who were rejected by the United States would be transferred to Nauru, who will remain open indefinitely.
Australia last month reached a settlement of 90 million Australian dollars ($68 million) with more than 1,900 asylum seekers who sued over their treatment on Manus.