Why is the U.S. Taking in One Thousand Refugees from Manus Island and Nauru?

The first 50 of more than 1,000 refugees to be resettled under an Obama-era deal are expected to arrive in the U.S. within weeks, according to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Turnbull thanked President Donald Trump, who labelled the deal as “dumb” on Twitter and “bad” and “stupid” in a heated phone call with Turnbull in January, for upholding the agreement in a televised interview on Wednesday.

“President Trump had some reservations about it to say the least, but nonetheless, he is honoring that commitment made by his predecessor and I want to thank you for doing so,” Turnbull said.

The men and women are currently detained on the South Pacific island nation of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, where Australian authorities send vessels of asylum-seekers barred from reaching the country's shores.

In exchange, Australia pays Nauru and Papua New Guinea to keep asylum seekers in detention centers that human rights activists and U.N. officials have denounced as breeding ground for abuse, particularly for children, and mental health problems.

Seven asylum seekers have died in the centers since 2014, while a young Iranian cartoonist held on Manus Island going by the pen name Eaten Fish used his talent to denounce sexual harassment, the lack of support for survivors of violence and abuse, and general miserable living conditions in the camps.

Please share these words until it gets to parliament and prime minister of Australia ... Please read it and then think...

Posted by Mr. EatenFish Arts on Sunday, 12 February 2017

 

What are the terms of the deal?

The deal was struck between Turnbull and President Barack Obama in November, and made public within days of Donald Trump’s election. The one-off agreement was only going to affect asylum seekers currently in the processing center and was going to be administered with the U.N. High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR).

According to a report of the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection published in June, there were 1,174 asylum seekers detained on the islands, many of them for periods of over two years and the majority having refugee status.

Transcripts of the Trump-Turnbull phone call leaked to the Washington Post in June show Turnbull explaining that the U.S. was free decide how many people it would take in and had complete autonomy in the vetting process.

He also said that the refugees weren’t “bad people,” but they were forbidden access to Australia as part of the country's strategy to discourage people smuggling by boat, which Trump praised as “a good idea” that the U.S. should replicate.

Turnbull also said Australia does a “number of things” for the U.S. as their part of the deal, without further elaborating.

U.S. officials are carrying out a tough vetting process, Turnbull said on Wednesday. Back in November, the Australian prime minister saying the priority was going to be resettling the most vulnerable refugees. "Our priority is the resettlement of women, children and families," he said. "This will be an orderly process. It will take time. It will not be rushed."

09_20_refugees_Protest A member of a human rights groups holds a placard as they call for an independent inquiry in Sydney on August 9, 2017, after another refugee was found dead at a detention camp on Manus Island. The U.S. will soon begin resettling refugees from Australia's offshore detention camps. William West/AFP/Getty Images

Where are the refugees from?

The asylum seekers detained on Nauru and Manus Island come from the Middle East and South Asia, with the vast majority Iranian citizens. 

Iran is one of the countries affected by President Trump so-called Muslim ban, blocking access to the U.S. to people from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen (Iraq was originally included but later taken off the list).

According to human rights group, U.S. officials are not prioritizing Iranians, focusing instead on refugees whose applications are easier to verify through background checks and come from countries with closer ties to the U.S., with the absence of U.S.-Iran diplomatic ties often makes it nearly impossible to verify asylum seekers’ claims.

"Iranians are about a third of the refugees on Manus but are only about 10 percent of the ones interviewed so far," said Ian Rintol, spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, told Reuters. "It seems there had been some discriminatory selection."

According to Reuters, the first people to be notified of the resettlements were from Bangladesh, Sudan, and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, although representatives of Australia's immigration minister, Peter Dutton, refused to comment on the story.

Dutton announced the Manus Island detention center would shut down by the end of October 2017. When the refugee deal with the U.S. was announced in November, Dutton said those who refused offers to resettle in the U.S. or return home would be given a 20-year visa to remain on the impoverished island of Nauru, with no financial support.

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