The United States has begun the new process known as “extreme vetting” for a group of refugees being held at an island detention center run by Australia. The refugees are part of a previously negotiated deal between the governments of Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia, and former President Barack Obama, Reuters reports.
President Trump made headlines in January after a reportedly tense phone call with Turnbull, where he called the planned exchange of refugees as a “dumb deal.” Both parties sought to downplay the sensational reactions in the media after the call, with Trump saying it was a “big exaggeration” and “We get along great. We have a fantastic relationship, I love Australia, I always have.”
The detention centers, on the islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea, currently hold 1,250 asylum seekers who had sought refuge in Australia. The Trump administration caveated the deal with the promise that the refugees will undergo strict screening measures now known as “extreme vetting.”
As part of the exchange, Australia has agreed to receive Central American refugees now being held at a detention center in Costa Rica.
U.S. government officials have begun the security interview processes with the refugees, the first of which concluded this week. According to some of the refugees interviewed, questions sound like a fairly standard background check, to include associations, family, friends, and any interactions with the Islamic State. Only after a review process following security interviews will refugees be granted asylum seeker status. 70 individuals who have completed the process will receive a final decision over the next month.
“The United States remains deeply committed to safeguarding the American public, just as we are committed to providing refuge to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. These goals are not mutually exclusive,” a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department said.
Asylum seekers traveling to Australia have long been a contentious issue there. Turnbull’s government had campaigned on the promise to “stop the boats,” referring to the thousands of people who had attempted to immigrate to Australia by boat after immigration policies were relaxed years ago. Australia has since taken more proactive measures at restricting the flow of refugees from war zones such as Syria.
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