Pacific News Minute: Australia’s Immigration Minister Admits “People Swap” Deal with U.S.

Feb 23, 2017

Nauru Regional Processing Facility
Credit Wikimedia Commons

A tacit deal between Australia and the United States is now explicit. In an interview with Australia’s Sky News, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton conceded for the first time that Australia will not accept a group of Central American refugees until the U.S. accepts asylum seekers held on the Pacific Islands of Manus and Nauru….more from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute


The headline, last fall, was that the Obama administration had agreed to relieve Australia of a major problem.  About two thousand asylum seekers who languish in what the U.N. and human rights groups describe as inhumane conditions in off shore camps on Nauru and Manus.


Buried in the back pages, was an Australian agreement to accept refugees from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala now in camps in Costa Rica. For months, Canberra insisted the two agreements were entirely separate and distinct.  Until this week, when Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told Sky News that yes, it is a quid pro quo.


“We wouldn’t take anyone,” Dutton said, “unless we have assurances that people were going to go off Nauru and Manus.”


The bald statement caught Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop off guard.  On a visit to Washington to mend strained relations after a tense phone call between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and President Trump, she continued to insist that the two deals do not amount to a people swap.


While President Trump described it as a dumb deal, every indication is that the U.S. will honor the agreement after extreme vetting. Many of about 1,250 granted refugee status are from Iran, Afghanistan and Somalia.  And that still leaves about eight hundred people who did not qualify as refugees, and now face deportation to their home countries.