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Australia refugee swap in doubt due to Trump immigration rules
17 July 2017, 05:42 | Melissa Porter
Fairfax Media The Australia-US refugee swap deal is again in doubt
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the U.S. screening process is "progressing as we expected", even though USA immigration officials halted interviews and left Nauru a day after Washington said the country had reached its annual refugee intake cap.
Three detainees told Reuters that USA citizenship and immigrations who were vetting refugees on the island had halted screening interviews and left Nauru.
Adding some urgency to the deal is the looming closure of the Manus Island refugee processing centre which will shut down at the end of October, with building decommissioning works well underway.
In relation to contingency plans for anyone not accepted under the U.S. deal, the department says refugees on Nauru have the option of staying there for up to 20 years, or volunteering for resettlement in Cambodia.
"It is not uncommon for the dates of tentatively-planned refugee circuit ride trips worldwide to change due to a wide variety of factors".
Despite all that, Vice President Mike Pence assured Turnbull that the US would honor the deal - while still making sure everyone knew Trump was very unhappy about it - when he visited Australia in April.
US President Donald Trump reduced America's annual refugee intake from 110,000 to 50,000 as part of his travel ban earlier this year.
In the US, a senior member of the union that represents refugee officers at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a Department of Homeland Security agency, told Reuters his trip to Nauru was not going forward as scheduled.
The US is assessing numerous hundreds of refugees in those centres for resettlement as part of a deal struck previous year with the Australian Government. At the center of the dispute was a refugee swap brokered by Obama where the US agreed to take in refugees being held in Australian detention centers in exchange for Australia taking refugees held in Costa Rica.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Sunday the deal was progressing as expected, reiterating the government had assurances from the Trump administration.
Only 70 refugees, less than 10 per cent of the total detainees held in the camp, have completed U.S. processing.
Australia wants close both Manus and Nauru detention centres, which are expensive to run and have been widely criticised by the United Nations and others over treatment of detainees.
The officials left just one day after it was announced the USA had reached its refugee quota of 50,000 for the year already.
Australia and Cambodia signed a controversial deal on refugee resettlement in 2014, when Australia promised $40 million in aid in exchange for Cambodia taking refugees from Nauru.
Australia's hardline immigration policy requires asylum seekers intercepted at sea trying to reach Australia to be sent for processing to camps at Manus and on Nauru. The asylum seekers are denied an opportunity to even set foot in Australia where they could apply for political asylum.
Trump infamously ranted against what he called a "dumb deal" imposed on his administration by a lame-duck predecessor during his first conversation with Turnbull.
Australia has already offered detainees up to $25,000 to voluntarily return to their home countries, an offer few have taken up.
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