Six important questions about the refugee US resettlement deal that need to be answered.

The Australian government’s announcement that asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru and Manus Island could be resettled in the US has been hailed by many as a circuit breaker, long overdue, but there are many important questions that must be answered if it is to proceed.

The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the one-off deal, which will only apply to those currently on the islands and not to any new arrivals, on Sunday morning following a year of negotiations with the Obama administration.

“It is a one-off agreement — it will not be repeated,” he told reporters.

Turnbull would not be drawn on how many refugees the US will take, with the final figure to be determined by US authorities, but said “the most vulnerable” would be prioritised— in particular, families on Nauru. The Federal Government hopes to begin moving people to the US early next year.

While it is undoubtedly welcome news, like most initiatives from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), it also remains somewhat shrouded in mystery.

Currently there are more than 1000 men, women and children on Nauru and Manus Island, as well as hundreds more who have been brought to Australia for medical treatment, some with relatives.

Many have been left traumatised by years in offshore detention after fleeing conflict and persecution in their home countries.

Refugee advocates stress they deserve peace of mind and the Greens have stated there are “gaping holes” in the US resettlement scheme.


Here are the six questions refugee advocates want answered, which Mamamia also relayed to the DIBP. The department’s answers have been taken into consideration and are included below.

1. What about the refugees and asylum seekers already in Australia?

One of the most concerning aspects of the plan is that those who have been brought to Australia for medical treatment — including an estimated 15 women who were victims of sexual assault or raped on Nauru — could be forced to to return to the Pacific islands in order to be eligible for resettlement.

They also risk being stuck there, alongside their attackers, if their claims are rejected by US authorities or the deal collapses.

“It’s really concerning that they would have to go back to Nauru where they’ve been harmed,” refugee advocate Natasha Blucher from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre told Mamamia, adding the announcement had caused “major uncertainty and anxiety” among the group.

“They’re only just starting to get involved in their communities and heal.”


Refugees and asylum seekers in Australia may be forced to return to Nauru. Source: Getty

Aside from those women, people receiving treatment for serious mental and physical health issues and their immediate families, make up another 360 also just beginning to rebuild their lives.

More than 100 of the latter group — who were the subject of February's successful #LetTheStay campaign— are children, including 40 babies who were born in Australia.

Greens immigration spokesperson Senator Nick Mckim described the proposition of sending anyone back as "entirely unacceptable".

"Having exposed these women and children to harm, the Australian government has a moral obligation to ensure their protection. They should be permanently resettled in Australia," he told Mamamia.


"As Amnesty International and the Australian Lawyers Alliance recently made clear, our offshore detention system on Nauru is tantamount to torture.

"Forcing people to return to conditions of torture is outrageous and should not be allowed to happen."

A spokesperson from the DIBP told Mamamia that while they would not discuss individual cases, there was an expectation those currently undergoing medical treatment in Australia would be returned to Manus Island and Nauru once that treatment was concluded, adding they would not "endanger individuals".

"They are only here for medical treatment and these individuals will not be settling in Australia as the Prime Minister and Minister has said on multiple occasions," the spokesperson said.

2. What happens to those who are rejected?

On top of those in Australia, there are the 1000-plus asylum seekers and refugees still living on Manus Island and Nauru.

As yet, the government has given no precise indication of how many of those will be eligible for resettlement, though Turnbull has conceded the number would be "substantial" since his initial announcement.

Likewise the US have given no guarantee they will even take all asylum seekers, only that they will consider their applications.


The DIBP told Mamamia those who are rejected can "voluntarily" accept a 20-year Nauru visa, return to their country of origin or go to another country, at present the only option is Cambodia.

Mckim described any possible rejection as akin to "a continuation of their indefinite detention".

3. Could families be separated?

Another major concern is that families could be forcibly separated and if, for example, the controversial lifetime ban on refugees arriving by boat is passed, they may never be reunited— certainly not in Australia.

Many of those on Manus and Nauru potentially eligible for the US deal have family members — parents, children, siblings cousins, aunts, uncles — already living in Australia on permanent residency visas.

"They’re understandably looking for more information before they make those decisions," Blucher said, adding that those who raise questions are simply handed a slip of paper directing them to the US state department's information page on refugee admissions.

"They’ve had three years to put this response together and they’re still unable tot provide enough detail to make people feel confident that will have some kind of future."

When asked, the DIBP spokesperson reiterated that US authorities would use their discretion and own set of criteria when deciding who take from those deemed to be genuine refugees by the UNHCR.

4. How long will this all take?

The government has not given a specific time frame for processing, but said it could take "some months", with US officials to begin the vetting process next week.


The Turnbull Government hopes to begin moving refugees to the US early next year.

Many of those on Manus Island and Nauru have already suffered for more than three and half years.

5. What if Donald Trump refuses to honour the deal?

The deal was also struck with the Obama administration, but Turnbull has downplayed concerns the President-Elect could go back on the deal when he assumes office in January.

The Federal Government says they will continue to work with the Obama administration, and will work with the Trump administration.


Is the plan be doomed under President Trump? Source: Getty

"We have a very long history of cooperation with the United States," Turnbull told reporters when the question was raised during a press conference on Monday.

"The United States has no closer ally, we have no closer ally."

6. So, what now?

Basically, we wait and see and remain cautiously optimistic, although we could just #BringThemHere.

"The fastest, easiest and most humane solution to offshore detention is to close the camps and bring all of the people in them here to Australia," McKim said.

The DIBP however stressed this was not an option.

"Of course it is an emotive subject and no one likes to see people in unhappy situations but the government has made it clear that because these people travelled to Australia by boat they will never be settled in Australia," the spokesperson told Mamamia.

The ASRC has put together a fact sheet for those potentially affected by the deal.