Refugees worry U.S. may still renege on Australia deal

The future of a refugee exchange deal between the United States and Australia is again being called into question after U.S. officials suddenly left the Australian detention center where they were interviewing potential refugees on Friday.

Trump’s presidency got off to something of an awkward start when he managed to piss off Australia of all places on his first phone call with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. At the center of the dispute was a refugee swap brokered by Obama where the U.S. agreed to take in refugees being held in Australian detention centers in exchange for Australia taking refugees held in Costa Rica. The phone call ended early, with Trump calling it “the worse deal ever.” After the call, Trump continued to publicly bash the deal, calling it “dumb,” and putting the arrangement’s future in jeopardy.

Despite all that, Vice President Mike Pence assured Turnbull that the U.S. would honor the deal — while still making sure everyone knew Trump was very unhappy about it — when he visited Australia in April. On Friday however, officials suddenly stopped conducting interviews with refugees at a holding facility on the island of Nauru, and nobody is quite sure why. According to one refugee, the officials were supposed to be there until July 26 but are now gone. From Reuters:

In the United States, a senior member of the union that represents refugee officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a Department of Homeland Security agency, told Reuters his own trip to Nauru was not going forward as scheduled.

Jason Marks, chief steward of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924, told Reuters his trip has now been pushed back and it was unclear whether it will actually happen. The USCIS did not respond to requests for comment.

Australia was hoping to close another detention facility in Papua New Guinea, but now may not be able to if the U.S. doesn’t take the refugees they promised. To make matters worse, the conditions in these facilities are supposedly abhorrent.

The officials left just one day after it was announced the U.S. had reached its refugee quota of 50,000 for the year already. Technically this means no more refugees will be let into the country before October 1. The deal with Australia dictates the U.S. take in 1,250 refugees, but there doesn’t seem to be any timetable for this to happen.

[Reuters | Photo: Getty]