Now that the U.S. government has reached its annual refugee resettlement cap as set by the Trump administration, hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers from Australia won’t be able to enter the United States as promised during former President Barack Obama’s administration.
In the last year of Obama’s term, the U.S. government promised to take in 1,250 refugees from Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka who have been living for more than three years in immigration camps on the Pacific islands of Papua New Guinea and Nauru. In what amounted to a “refugee swap,” Australia said in September it would resettle Central American refugees living in U.S.-supported detention camps in Costa Rica.
That swap now won’t proceed since the United States hit its annual refugee cap. Trump signed an executive order to cut the number of refugees and immigrants the United States would take in — down to 50,000 from 110,000 set by his predecessor — before the 2017 fiscal year ends on September 30. The U.S. Department of State announced last week it has reached its 40,000 number and halted the refugee resettlement program until the upcoming fiscal year.
“We’re disappointed that they haven’t been able to move this month, which was my hope, but their new program year starts on Oct. 1, and we’re working with both the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that we can get people off as quickly as possible,” Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton told reporters this week.
Australia has stuck by a strict immigration blockade policy that turns away refugees who arrive by boat. Refugees and asylum seekers are then detained at refugee processing centers on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or Nauru.
People who wind up in these detention sites often describe their detention as cruel. An October 2016 Amnesty International report found that it was common for detainees to try and kill themselves because of the horrific conditions they allegedly faced. Children face mental health challenges, abuse, and neglect issues.
The Australian government has began the process to shut down the Manus Island center by October 31, so it could move refugees to the township of Lorengau. But the refugees have refused to go, saying they don’t feel safe. That has led to authorities reportedly cutting off power, water, toilets, and phones to the inhabitants.