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Australia's Turnbull: Trump to honor refugee swap deal

By Stephen Feller
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Malcolm Turnbull, prime minister of Australia, pictured in September 2016 at the United Nations in New York, said at a press conference Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump had agreed to uphold a deal made with previous President Barack Obama to accept Australian refugees in exchange for U.S.-held refugees in Costa Rica. File photo by Monika Graff/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/7c604c4ca11248521da813389d13e860/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Malcolm Turnbull, prime minister of Australia, pictured in September 2016 at the United Nations in New York, said at a press conference Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump had agreed to uphold a deal made with previous President Barack Obama to accept Australian refugees in exchange for U.S.-held refugees in Costa Rica. File photo by Monika Graff/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 30 (UPI) -- The Trump administration plans to honor a deal to swap refugees with Australia that the Obama administration reached last year, the Australian prime minister said at a press conference.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Sunday that U.S. President Donald Trump agreed during a Saturday phone conversation he planned to honor the deal Australia struck with former U.S. President Barack Obama to swap refugees.

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The deal, which had been in question since its announcement in November, was thought to be even more unlikely after Trump's own announcement halting all refugees from entering the United States on Friday.

"I thank President Trump for his commitment to honor that existing agreement," Turnbull said.

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Obama struck the deal late last year to accept a number of Indonesian refugees that have been held at camps in Naura and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

While the original deal with Obama included Australia accepting U.S.-held refugees in Costa Rica, who had been fleeing violence in South America and were previously turned away from the United States border while seeking asylum, there was no indication whether Australia will still accept refugees in return.

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The deal was complicated by Trump's signing of an executive order Friday that, in addition to blocking travel by immigrants from seven countries in the Middle East, blocked all refugees from coming to the United States for 120 days.

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How the executive order will affect the deal was unknown, aside from Trump's assurance to Turnbull that the previous deal with Obama would be honored. The Trump administration has said that during the 120-day moratorium on refugees it will evaluate the current vetting system for refugees seeking asylum in the United States as it works to improve border security.

While there has been little indication of how the system will change, some say the Australian refugees offer an opportunity to test a new system with people who have already been vetted by one of the stronger refugee screening programs in the world.

"They've already had significant vetting by Australian authorities and any refugees that will be settled in the U.S. will be subject to 'extreme vetting' by Department of Homeland Security," Dougal Robinson, a research fellow at the United States Studies Center at the University of Sydney, told The New York Times. "If the Trump administration at any point is going to accept refugees then these refugees are probably better placed than most others."

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