Officials from the United States have arrived in Australia to begin the assessment of refugees held in centres on the Pacific island nation of Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea for resettlement in the US, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Saturday.
Last week, Australia and the US announced they had struck a one-off deal that a substantial number of the 1,200 refugees, from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, held on the two islands would be resettled in the US. The Australian government faces both internal and international criticism over the treatment and living conditions of these refugees.
Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Research Anna Neistat, who is one of the few to visit these detention centres, has said about Nauru:
“The distressing and heartbreaking accounts of deteriorating mental health, discrimination and violent attacks, sexual violence, inadequate medical care and harassment that I heard from mothers, fathers, adults and children as young as six, paint a picture of people driven to absolute despair."
"Officials from Homeland Security are in Australia right now in fact, and they will be going to Nauru shortly," Turnbull said on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Lima, Peru.
American officials would determine the timeline of resettlement, said Turnbull. Earlier this week, the prime minister said the US officials would decide the actual number.
The offer will not include the asylum seekers who arrived in the offshore centres from November 13 onwards.
The chief executive of the United States Studies Centre at Sydney University, Professor Simon Jackman said that the agreement would need further negotiations with Trump.
"All of the signs from the Trump administration are that deals like this are looked at unfavourably," Jackman said.
If Trump refuses the deal, refugees would be left with the choice of returning to their home countries or staying in Nauru or Papua New Guinea.
At least 18,000 refugees and asylum seekers arrived in Australia illegally by sea in the last two years, many of them Muslims.
The government recently said it plans to legislate against allowing any refugee who reached Australian shores by boat to re-enter the country under any circumstances, even as a tourist, spouse of a citizen or a businessman or woman.
— meriki (@MerikiKO) November 15, 2016
On October 30, Australia announced it will be introducing legislation to ban adult refugees who try to reach its shores from ever returning to the country. Immigration minister Peter Dutton introduced the travel ban bill to parliament but a motion to oppose the legislation passed unanimously.
Prior to the travel bill's introduction to parliament, Conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters, "You need the clearest of clear messages. This is a battle of will between the Australian people, represented by their government, and these criminal gangs of people smugglers. You should not underestimate the scale of the threat."
The ruling coalition has introduced tough policies called Operation Sovereign Borders to control the refugee influx. Australia’s military vessels also participate by intercepting refugee boats.