Australia + 3 more

US officials fingerprint refugees on Manus Island as part of US-Australia resettlement deal

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original

By Washington bureau chief Zoe Daniel with additional reporting by Stephanie Anderson

Officials from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are now on Manus Island fingerprinting and photographing refugees as part of the US-Australia refugee deal.

The officials are expected to spend three days on the island and plan to return to conduct further interviews at the end of this month.

Refugees who have expressed interest in moving to the United States have been provided with documents outlining the support that will be provided should they be accepted.

"A resettlement agency will provide assistance with housing, medical appointments, job seeking support and other essential services for at least 30 to 90 days after your arrival in the United States," the documents state.

The documents go on to outline eligibility for family members to follow those who are accepted, including children, spouses, parents and possibly other relatives.

"Your resettlement agency can assist you with family reunification efforts after you are resettled."

About 300 people on Manus Island were interviewed during visits by officials earlier this year, with about the same number yet to be spoken to.

Department of Homeland Security staff have already been on Nauru conducting a similar process.

Those who are being fingerprinted and photographed have been issued with an "appointment for collection of biometric information" letter.

Security and health checks will also be conducted before any refugees are approved for acceptance into the US.

Refugees have doubts about deal

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist and Iranian refugee in the Manus Island centre, has voiced concerns about uncertainty over the deal.

Posting on Facebook, Mr Boochani said the lack of certainty was "torturing" men on the island.

"We have not been told ... how many people they will take," he said.

"We have not been told anything about the people with negative status. It's unacceptable that immigration doesn't have any plan for the people who will remain if the deal works.

"Actually a lot of people with negative status have not been completely processed, and for some people the process has been unfair," Mr Boochani said.

Addressing a Senate hearing last month, Australia's Immigration Department said a separate group of officials from Homeland Security would conduct security interviews on Nauru from March 30 to April 20, before doing the same on Manus Island from May 2 to May 12.

The ABC understands that of roughly 900 refugees who may be under consideration on Nauru, about 600 had first interviews conducted by officials from the US resettlement team based in Bangkok in December and January.

Of about 600 who may be eligible on Manus Island, around half had first interviews during the same period.

'Extreme vetting' specifics remain vague

All refugees will have to meet 'extreme vetting' requirements being implemented by the Trump administration.

The specifics of those requirements remain vague.

None of the refugees have yet been given a timeframe for potential transfer to the United States under the deal brokered between the Turnbull Government and the administration of former president Barack Obama.

"Once all interviews and security checks are complete, DHS/USCIS [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services] will make the decision about whether you are eligible for resettlement to the United States and will issue a decision letter," the paperwork states.

There is concern Mr Trump's reduction of refugee places from 110,000 to 50,000 for 2017 could affect the timetable for resettlement, even if refugees from Australian-run detention centres are approved.

Latest figures show that 39,093 of the 50,000 places had already been filled by March 31.

Several people have recently been deported from Manus Island after their refugee applications were rejected.

A number of those deported over the last few weeks have been Lebanese men.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation