Uncertainties Loom Over Refugees in Oceania


The United States has stopped screening refugees held on Nauru Island for resettlement to the U.S., according to Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton. The announcement followed a phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on January 29.

Australia has traditionally been known for its strict immigration policies. Since 2013, it has strictly maintained the policy of not resettling asylum-seekers that arrived by boat, including even those with legal refugee status. A majority of Australians support this policy. The government sends refugees to detention facilities on the Nauru and Manus Islands in Papua New Guinea, places that the United Nations have criticized for dire conditions. Most refugees in Australia are from Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, all of which boast significant Muslim populations.

Yet, refugees had previously found hope in the U.S.-Australia refugee resettlement deal signed in November 2016 by then U.S. President Barack Obama and Turnbull. Under the agreement, Obama promised to resettle an unspecified number of refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centers. Two U.S. officials would interview the refugees over a period of six months under the plan. In return, Turnbull agreed to resettle refugees from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

Trump described this agreement as a “dumb deal,” and the deal now faces a serious revision. He stopped the refugee screening process and promised to send U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials to revise the U.S.-Australia refugee deal.