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The U.S could take more than the mooted 1,250 refugees from Australia’s offshore immigration detention islands of Manus and Nauru, Australia’s ambassador for people smuggling and human trafficking has told a Senate inquiry.
But Andrew Goledzinowski has also conceded the US deal will not be sufficient to empty the islands of the refugees currently held there.
Appearing before the inquiry established following the Guardian’s publication of the Nauru files, Goledzinowski said that the final details of the American refugee deal would be determined by the US government, but that it would not be correct to characterise the 1,250 figure floated publicly by the Trump administration as the “upper limit” to the deal.
“The US administration has undertaken to take 50,000 [refugees] this year globally. Whether they end up taking more than 1,250 from Manus and Nauru, or significantly less, is impossible to say at this stage,” Goledzinowski said.
“It’ll be a function of how many apply to go to the United States, it’ll be a function of how many are determined by the United States to qualify for their refugee intake requirements, and then, of course, security vetting on top of that.
“It could well be that the US eventually chooses to take more than 1,250.”
But he conceded there was no requirement under the deal for the US to take a single refugee from Australia’s offshore detention regime, and that the US could take zero, or just a handful of refugees, and still be upholding the agreement.
“That’s not our expectation,” Goledzinowski said.
“It’s as likely that they will take 2,000 as they will take zero; I think the likelihood is somewhere in-between.”
Goledzinowski said many of those held on Australia’s offshore islands – most are entering their fourth year in detention there – fled the Middle East before the rise of Isis.
“For the US, who they take is very important, from the point of view of security. These are refugees who have now been assessed for a period of some years. They are people who, very importantly, who have come from the Middle East … before the rise of Isis, and it may well be open to the US to find that these refugees are actually more attractive, in terms of their resettlement program, than some other refugees.
“So we would hope that the maximum number can be taken. We don’t know yet exactly how many that will be.”
Goledzinowski, a career diplomat, was appointed in November 2014 to lead Australia’s international engagement against people smuggling, trafficking and slavery.
Currently, about 1,600 people in offshore detention have been recognised as refugees, that is they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their homeland and cannot be returned there.
Goledzinowski said the US deal would not resettle enough refugees to see the offshore detention camps closed.
“There will be a balance. There is no question in my mind that there will be some who won’t qualify or who will choose not to go to the US.”
Those who remain have the options: to resettle in Cambodia – where just six people have gone at this stage, and only two of whom who remain, at a cost of more than $40m; to resettle in PNG – where 25 people have resettled; or to remain on Nauru for up to 20 years.
Australia, Goledzinowski said, remained actively engaged in looking for other “third countries” in which to resettle refugees from its offshore detention regime.
He also confirmed that the offer from New Zealand – to resettle 150 refugees from Australia’s detention regime every year – remained a “live” offer, but it had not been taken up by Australia.
The US refugee deal was brokered between the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and Barack Obama in November last year. Incoming President Trump has described the arrangement as a “dumb deal” and lambasted Turnbull over it during a fractious phone call in January. Trump’s administration, however, has insisted the deal will be upheld.
The US agreement to take refugees from Australian-run camps was struck two months after Australia agreed to take refugees from the “northern triangle” countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, currently held in US-controlled camps in Costa Rica.
The Australian government has insisted there is no “quid pro quo” on the refugee resettlement deals, and that the two deals were not a “people swap”.
Australia’s two offshore detention centres cost more than $300m to run for less than six months to the end of last year. From July 1, 2016 to December 16, 2016 – a period of about 5 ½ months – the Manus Island detention centre cost $177m and the Nauru centre $165m.
Those figures would predict an annual cost for running offshore detention of in excess of $700m, about $60m a month.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIA/PACNEWS
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