The United States is expected to have resettled more than 1,100 refugees by early next year under a deal President Donald Trump reluctantly honored with Australia, an Australian official said on Monday.
President Barack Obama’s administration struck a deal in 2016 to accept up to 1,250 refugees from Iran, Bangladesh, Somalia and Myanmar whom Australia had banished to Pacific island camps.
Trump condemned the deal as "dumb” but agreed to honor the U.S. commitment, subject to "extreme vetting” of the refugees.
The United States has resettled 870 refugees since October 2017 and around 250 more have received provisional approval to make new homes in the United States, Home Affairs Department deputy secretary Marc Ablong told an Australian Senate committee.
While resettlement had been disrupted in recent months by the pandemic, Ablong said Australia expected the last of the refugees accepted by the United States to be resettled by March or April.
The resettlement deal "is operating very effectively to date,” Ablong said.
The end of the U.S. agreement was expected to leave around 80 asylum seekers on the poor island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Australia deterred asylum seekers from coming by boat in 2013 by banning those who have arrived by sea from ever being allowed to settle on the Australian mainland.
Australia pays Papua New Guinea and Nauru to house such asylum seekers under deals that have been condemned by human rights groups.
Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Australian advocacy group Refugee Action Coalition, said the fate of asylum seekers left on Nauru and in the Papua New Guinea capital Port Moresby was unclear.
"The government’s got no solution for the people that will be left behind,” Rintoul said.
New Zealand's offer to take 150 refugees a year has been refused while the United States continues to accept them.
The government's policy of denying resettlement to those who try to arrive by boat includes those who received medical treatment in Australia then got court injunctions preventing their return to Nauru and Papua New Guinea. There were currently 1,226 such asylum seekers in Australia, Ablong said.
Some see the U.S. resettlement deal as repayment for Australia agreeing to accept Honduran and Salvadoran refugees under a U.S.-led resettlement program from a camp in Costa Rica.
Trump proposed to Congress last month an intake 300,000 new refugee and asylum claims in fiscal 2021, 68,000 fewer than in the previous year.