World View: Australia Pays Refugees Cash to Return Home, as U.S. Resettlement Deal Falters


This morning’s key headlines from

  • Australia-US refugee swap deal appears to be faltering
  • Australia and Germany paying asylum seekers cash to return home

Australia-US refugee swap deal appears to be faltering

Accommodations for refugees at the Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea (Reuters)
Accommodations for refugees at the Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea (Reuters)

A deal in November between President Barack Obama and Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to allow 1,250 refugees being held in Australia’s refugee centers to be resettled in the United States is proceeding slowly.

The refugees, from countries like Bangladesh and Nepal, are living in two “detention centers” on Pacific islands, one on Papua New Guinea’s (PNG’s) Manus Island, and one on the island nation of Nauru, under agreements that Australia reached with both countries. However, the United Nations and international refugee activists have condemned the refugee camps, saying that under international law, valid asylum seekers should be resettled on Australian soil. Australia has resisted that in order to discourage human trafficking of refugees to Australia.

Early in February, President Donald Trump called it “the worst deal ever,” but promised to honor the deal because he was bound by agreements made by the previous administration. He confirmed that the US will take in up to 1,250 of these refugees, after subjecting each of them to “extreme vetting.”

However, things have been going slowly, according to Australian officials. Although some preliminary screening has taken place, officials from the US Department of Homeland Security had not been authorized to start formally vetting applicants.

Australia’s Immigration and Border Protection secretary Mike Pezzullo says that he believes that the delay is only temporary:

As we’ve made clear, our colleagues in Homeland Security are not in a position yet to start their processes but they’ll certainly be able to conduct themselves in a very expedited fashion given the amount of preliminary work that’s been done.

There is another major wrinkle to this deal, and it was only revealed last week.

Last September, Turnbull announced that Australia would help the United States deal with its refugee problem by taking refugees from Costa Rica and resettling them in Australia. When the deal to resettle refugees from Australia in the United States was announced in November, Turnbull repeatedly denied that it was related to the Costa Rica deal.

So last week, that denial was suddenly abandoned, and this was apparently no surprise to anyone in Australia. Immigration minister Peter Dutton did a complete flip-flop and said that the government “wouldn’t take anyone until we had assurances that people are going to go off Nauru and Manus. We want an outcome in relation to Nauru and Manus.”

An opposition spokesman said, “I mean, look, everyone knew it was a deal, and last night Peter Dutton, playing politics as always, belled the cat when he made it clear that it was contingent that taking people from Costa Rica was contingent on America taking those from Manus and Nauru, so clearly this was a deal.” Australian Broadcasting and (Australia)

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Australia and Germany paying asylum seekers cash to return home

Facing heavy international criticism from the United Nations and refugee activists, Australia has agreed to close down the two “detention centers” on Nauru and on Papua New Guinea’s (PNG’s) Manus Island by the end of the year.

Australia is encouraging refugees to return to their home countries voluntarily by taking up US$25,000 in cash, or to face deportation otherwise. Several dozen refugees have accepted the offer, according to reports.

Germany is also paying refugees to return to their home countries, but a lot less. Last year, Germany paid 54,000 asylum seekers cash to return home, for a total payout of €21.5 million ($22 million). This would appear to average out to about €400 per refugee.

Last month, Germany announced a “voluntary return” program to offer €1,200 ($1,275) to each asylum seeker to return home if their asylum applications are rejected. Last year, Germany received some 700,000 asylum requests, around 60% of which were successful. However, around 430,000 requests remained unanswered, many of which date back to 2015 or earlier. Reuters (14-Feb) and Deutsche-Welle (20-Jan) and Reuters and Economist

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, Papua New Guinea, PNG, Manus Island, Nauru. Mike Pezzullo, Costa Rica, Peter Dutton, Germany
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