U.S., in Deal With Australia, Agrees to Take Some Refugees


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Demonstrators in Sydney this month calling for increased acceptance of refugees.

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Peter Parks/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

SYDNEY, Australia — The Australian government said Sunday that it had reached a one-time agreement in which the United States would take in refugees who had been banished to a detention center on the tiny impoverished Pacific island nation of Nauru.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, said the government would first resettle refugee women, children and families.

Refugees held at another offshore processing center, Manus Island, a province of Papua New Guinea, may also be considered for resettlement in the United States. Asylum seekers who have not been granted refugee status should return home, Mr. Turnbull said.

Mr. Turnbull would not say how many of the refugees, who were granted that status by the United Nations, would be resettled in the United States. “U.S. authorities will conduct their own assessment of refugees and decide which people are resettled in the U.S.,” he said in a written statement. About 410 men, women and children are held on Nauru, and 823 men are held on Manus Island. Some are from Iran, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Malaysia.

At a news conference in Canberra, the capital, Mr. Turnbull said, “This agreement has been struck after months and months of very careful planning.” Officials from the United States Department of Homeland Security will arrive within days to begin carefully screening refugees for resettlement, he said. “The process will be an orderly one,” he added. “We are not setting timelines.”

Refugees who refuse to accept the offer will be forced to return to their homelands or can settle on Nauru under a 20-year visa agreement the Australian government worked on with the authorities there, Mr. Turnbull said.

He said the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees supported the government’s agreement with the United States. “We will continue to engage with U.N.H.C.R. on its implementation,” he said.

He gave little reassurance that the plan would be honored under President-elect Donald J. Trump. “We deal with one administration at a time,” Mr. Turnbull said.

The prime minister said Australia’s coalition government had “stopped the boats” by sending asylum seekers to the offshore camps, which opened in 2012 under the previous government, led by Labor. The United Nations has denounced the camps as inhumane and cruel.

“It is a one-off agreement,” Mr. Turnbull said. “It will not be repeated. It is only available to those in the regional processing centers. It will not be available to any persons who seek to reach Australia in the future.”

He said Australia had stepped up maritime and air surveillance and would turn back boats at sea if the authorities believed they carried asylum seekers trying to enter Australia illegally.

In Wellington, New Zealand, Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that the United States had agreed to consider refugees referred by the United Nations from the holding centers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, Australian news organizations reported.

Sending asylum seekers offshore and turning back boats laden with people have been central to the government’s policies to deter smugglers of people.

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