SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sought to allay concerns on Monday that a deal to send refugees from remote Pacific camps to the United States could be scuppered by President-elect Donald Trump.
Canberra on Sunday announced a “one-off” arrangement that would see an unspecified number of the 1,600 boatpeople held in offshore processing centers on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea settled in the US.
But with the political novice, who campaigned to ban Muslim migration, due to take office on January 20, the head of a prominent US anti-immigration think-tank warned: “This is the kind of thing the Trump administration will nix on Day 1.”
“I don’t expect any Republicans will defend it. I can’t see a lot of Democrats defending it either,” Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“My sense is that when the word gets out on this, it’ll be dead on arrival,” he added.
Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat to detention facilities on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru. They are blocked from resettling in Australia even if found to be refugees.
Australia’s arrangement with the Obama administration followed Turnbull in September saying he was ready to take more refugees from Central America.
Officials from the US Department of Homeland Security are due to arrive in Australia soon before heading to Nauru to determine who will be eligible for the US move.
While Turnbull spoke to Trump by phone soon after the shock election win last week, he said he did not bring up the refugee issue.
“Until January 20 when Donald Trump is inaugurated, the president is Barack Obama and we deal with one administration at a time,” he told Channel Nine.
“And you don’t discuss confidential matters with one administration with a future administration,” he added.
Asked if he was confident a president who wants to put up a wall between Mexico and the US to keep people out would honor the commitment, Turnbull was non-committal.
“We have a very long history of cooperation with the United States where we, in matters of this kind, are able to pursue our mutual and our respective humanitarian and national security objectives,” he said.
He added that those granted resettlement would be part of Washington’s annual refugee quota and “they are simply managing the mix of their refugee intake just as we are.”
Refugees who are offered the US option but reject it would be offered a 20-year Nauru visa, while future boat arrivals will not be eligible.
Australia has long sought to stem waves of boat migration by people from war-torn Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and the Middle East, using harsh policies including turning back the vessels, and strict secrecy about operations on the high seas and at the remote camps.
Although the current conservative government has largely managed to stop the arrivals, conditions in the camps have been widely criticized, with the issue becoming a political headache.