Pence says US will honour refugee deal with Australia

SYDNEY: US Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday the United States would honour a controversial refugee deal with Australia, under which the United States would resettle up to 1,250 asylum seekers, a deal President Donald Trump had described as “dumb”.
Pence told a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that the deal would be subject to vetting, and that honouring it “doesn’t mean that we admire the agreement”.
“We will honour this agreement out of respect to this enormously important alliance,” Pence said at Turnbull’s harbourside official residence in Sydney.
Australia is one of Washington’s staunchest allies and has sent troops to fight alongside the US military in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under the deal, agreed with former President Barack Obama late last year, the United States would resettle up to 1,250 asylum seekers held in offshore processing camps on South Pacific islands in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru.
In return, Australia would resettle refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The White House has already said it would apply “extreme vetting” to those asylum seekers held in the Australian processing centres seeking resettlement in the United States.
The deal has taken on added importance for Australia, which is under political and legal pressure to shut the camps, particularly one on PNG’s Manus Island where violence between residents and inmates flared last week.
Asylum-seeker advocates welcomed the US commitment, although they remained concerned that “extreme vetting” could see fewer than 1,250 resettled in the United States.
“What still isn’t clear is how many people will have this opportunity, and that clarity must be provided,” said Graham Thom, Refugee Coordinator at Amnesty International Australia.
“The violence on Manus Island last weekend only further demonstrates that the Australian government needs to give a clear commitment that no refugee or person seeking asylum will be left behind in Papua New Guinea or Nauru,” he said.
Pence was speaking on the final leg of a 10-day tour of the Asia-Pacific region. — Reuters