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Interviews With Asylum Seekers Held in Australian Camps Put On Hold By U.S. Officials

By Savannah Smith, The Goldwater · 02-03-2017
Photo credit: The Goldwater

President Donald Trump may have widely criticized as "dumb" the refugee resettlement deal the U.S. entered into with close ally Australia during the dying months of the Obama administration, still he showed an openness to honoring the Obama-initiated agreement by declaring that his government will review the said deal. For now, however, U.S. immigration officials have put on hold earlier scheduled interviews with asylum seekers in an Australian camp in the Pacific Island of Nauru.

Asylum seekers in Nauru who are applying to settle in the U.S. are supposed to undergo second round of interviews with visiting U.S. officials starting today until February 21. Sources from the refugee side said that the interviews have been postponed indefinitely. The postponement follows the recent executive order of the President temporarily suspending the immigration and refugee program of the U.S. involving seven predominantly-Muslim countries.

The refugee resettlement deal undertaken by the Obama administration with Australia would have seen the U.S. take in 1,250 asylum seekers currently staying in offshore detention camps of Australia while Australia in turn would welcome refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The said deal Trump called as "dumb" in a Twitter message was made by former President Obama without congressional approval. The Australian government's refugee program has met its share of controversies and criticisms in the past. The Australian government maintains a strict policy of not allowing foreigners who try to reach Australia by boat to eventually settle there and are instead put on Australian processing camps on Manus Island and Nauru. The refugees' conditions in the said camps have been harshly criticized by the U.N. and human rights agencies. Australia has not been transparent on the nationalities of the detainees, but refugee advocates revealed most are from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan- four of these countries are also included in the list of seven countries affected by the President's executive order on the temporary immigration, travel and refugee suspension.

Sources disclosed that the interviews with asylum seekers have been indefinitely suspended because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) officials deemed it best to wait for the administration's extreme vetting process for immigrants and refugees to be clarified and established first to avoid possible conflict and confusion in their handling of the cases of asylum seekers in Nauru. Refugee advocates anticipate- and fear- that such extreme vetting process may entail background checks and strict security assessments, and may hurt the chances of asylum seekers being approved to settle in the U.S.

In any case, the President has been very clear from the start in saying that the extreme vetting process is to guarantee the safety and security of Americans from potential terrorists who may enter the U.S.

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