Australia Says Last Refugee Children Held On Nauru Will Go To U.s.
SYDNEY, Australia — The Australian government said on Sunday that the last remaining children held on the Pacific island of Nauru while seeking asylum would be resettled in the United States, a long-awaited end to a controversial practice and a victory for migrant advocates.
“Every asylum-seeker child has now been removed from Nauru or has had their claim processed and has a clear path off the island,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Immigration Minister David Coleman said in a joint statement.
The move is a milestone for a coalition of lawyers, doctors and caseworkers who have pushed the government to transfer all critically ill people held in offshore detainment facilities to Australia. Currently, asylum seekers who try to reach Australia by sea are barred from settling there.
Since 2013, more than 3,000 refugees and asylum seekers have been detained on Nauru and Manus Island, which is part of Papua New Guinea. About 1,000 such migrants remain on the islands.
As of November, at least 430 refugees have been resettled in the United States, according to American officials, under a deal brokered by President Barack Obama to accept up to 1,250 refugees.
The deal was thrown into doubt after the election of Donald J. Trump, who made harsh rhetoric against immigration a central theme of his presidential campaign. Weeks after being sworn in as president, he called the pact “dumb” on Twitter. But Australia said he had agreed to honor the deal.
As of August, 109 children on Nauru were seeking asylum. Last year, doctors raised the alarm that a mental health crisis was coming to a head there: Children were exhibiting signs of resignation syndrome, a mental health condition found in trauma victims that involves extreme withdrawal from reality.
“Don’t be fooled by any government claims that getting kids off Nauru is their win,” Jana Favero, the director of advocacy and campaigns at the Asylum Seeker Resource Center, said in an interview. “We’ve had to fight the government every step of the way to get kids transferred.”
While pleased with the successful effort to remove the children from Nauru, the group is still “deeply concerned” about those remaining in the detention centers, she added.
Since 2014, 12 people have died in detention, many from self-harm.
In its statement, the government said it was working “quietly and methodically” to remove the children while maintaining the “integrity” of the current migration policy.
“We have secured our borders; we stopped the boats and the tragic drownings at sea,” the government said.
Parliament is to resume next week to debate a contentious bill in the House of Representatives that would allow all sick persons on the islands to be temporarily transferred to Australia.
“The bill provides the only pathway for critically ill people to get the treatment they urgently need.” Ms. Favero said.