Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull [official website] on Monday announced [press release] an agreement with the US to resettle refugees currently in detention centers on the South Pacific islands of Nauru and Manus. The agreement will prioritize the resettlement of women, children and families, and will be carried out under the auspices of the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) [official website]. According to Turnbull, the resettlement plan would be a “one-off agreement…only available to those currently in the regional processing centers” and would not be offered to asylum seekers illegally reaching Australian shores in the future. US Secretary of State John Kerry [official profile] acknowledged [press release] the deal in New Zealand on Sunday, saying that “we in the United States have agreed to consider referrals from UNHCR” on the refugees. Advocacy groups are concerned about the lack of details offered regarding the resettlement proceedings. Daniel Webb, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) [advocacy website] commented that the agreement was far from a plan [statement] and that the announcement “was full of holes. No timeframe. No numbers. No detail on what the government will do with the hundreds of innocent people who look like they might be left behind.”
Australian refugees and their treatment have been a topic of discussion among international human rights organizations as of late. In August, Australia announced [JURIST report] that Australia and Papua New Guinea intended on closing the controversial Manus Island detention center. That same month Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued reports [JURIST report] stating that Australia is ignoring inhumane treatment of detainees in Nauru. In May, Papua New Guinea officials stated Australian refugees are not being detained [JURIST report] on Manus Island, as they are given access to mainland Australia, although refugee advocates believe that the refugees are facing arbitrary restrictions to the mainland. The statement by officials followed a ruling by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court that the Australian off-shore detention facility was illegal, in direct opposition to a February ruling [JURIST report] by the Australian Supreme Court earlier that found the off-shore detention to be legal.