Australia’s prime minister on Wednesday would not say how many refugees from Pacific island camps would be resettled in the United States after President Donald Trump’s administration said “extreme vetting” would be used to check their cases.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that Trump had agreed during a weekend telephone conversation to keep an Obama administration promise to resettle an undisclosed number of mostly Muslim refugees. Australia has refused to accept them and instead pays for them to be housed on the impoverished nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters that the refugees would undergo enhanced screening designed to reduce the terrorist threat to the United States.
“There will be extreme vetting applied to all of them,” Spicer said.
Questioned about Spicer’s comments on Wednesday, Turnbull would not say how many refugees the United States could end up accepting.
“We don’t cut corners or compromise on keeping Australians safe and the U.S. government has exactly the same attitude,” Turnbull said.
“They will do their own extremely rigorous vetting of people that are the subject, or potentially the subject of the agreement,” he said.
More than 1,200 asylum seekers are held on Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Almost 400 who came to Australia for medical treatment and then refused to return to the islands are also eligible for resettlement to the United States. Many are from the seven Muslim-majority countries from which Trump has suspended immigration for three months.
The U.S. deal could solve a major political headache for Turnbull’s government that is under mounting criticism over the plight of desperate asylum seekers, some who have been on the islands for more than three years.
Australia has all but stopped refugee boat arrivals by refusing to allow any to stay. But Iran won’t take back its citizens unless they return voluntarily and most refugees have refused Australia’s offer to resettle permanently in Cambodia or Papua New Guinea.