U.S. officials meet asylum seekers at Australian-run camp, possibly restarting “dumb deal”

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By Colin Packham and Aaron Bunch | CANBERRA/PERTH

CANBERRA/PERTH U.S. officials began taking
fingerprints of asylum seekers in an Australian-run camp on the
Pacific island of Nauru on Monday, signalling that vetting of
applicants for resettlement in what U.S. President Donald Trump
called a “dumb deal” has restarted.

Australia agreed with former U.S. President Barack Obama
late last year for the United States to resettle up to 1,250
asylum seekers held in much criticised processing camps on Papua
New Guinea and Nauru. In return, Australia would resettle
refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Trump labelled the agreement a “dumb deal” in a Tweet, but
said he would stand by it.

Interviews with more than half a dozen detainees on Nauru
confirmed the U.S. Homeland Security officials arrived on
Saturday, with meetings with detainees beginning on Monday.

Two asylum seekers, who spoke on condition of anonymity
because of fears of jeopardising their applications to settle in
the United States, told Reuters by phone Homeland Security
officials did not ask any specific questions.

“It was not a normal interview, they just collected
fingerprints and took my height and weight,” the Iranian refugee
told Reuters.

Other refugees showed Reuters appointment slips to meet U.S.
officials.

Similar biometric data collection would begin at the
Australian-run detention centre in Papua New Guinea in early
April, detainees were told by immigration officials last week.

Australia maintains a strict policy of not allowing anyone
who tries to reach the country by boat to settle there, instead
detaining them in the camps on Nauru and PNG in conditions that
have been harshly criticised by rights groups.

Some asylum seekers have spent years in the camps, with
numerous reports of sexual abuse and self-harm among detainees,
including children.

One 36-year-old woman told Reuters by phone from Nauru she
did not want to be too hopeful about resettlement.

“For me, I really don’t believe anything (about) when I get
out from this hell,” she said. “I heard too many lies like this
in this three and half years.”

A spokeswoman for Australian Immigration Minister Peter
Dutton declined to comment. The Department of Homeland Security
did not respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. security interviews with asylum seekers on Nauru
were cancelled last month amid uncertainty about what
constituted “extreme vetting” Trump promised to apply to the
1,250 refugees it agreed to accept.

Some asylum seekers said the latest developments gave them
hope.

“I think the deal will happen, but the question we don’t
know is how many people will be taken by the U.S.,” Behrouz
Boochani, an Iranian refugee held on PNG’s Manus Island for
nearly four years, told Reuters.

With mounting international pressure, officials at Manus
Island centre are increasing pressure on asylum seekers to
return to their home countries voluntarily, including offering
large sums of money.



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