US officials postpone interviews with asylum seekers in Australian camps

February 3, 2017 07:44
1 minute read.

SYDNEY - US immigration officials have postponed interviews with asylum seekers in an Australian camp on the Pacific island of Nauru since President Trump's executive order on immigration, suggesting Washington is already blocking progress on a controversial refugee resettlement deal.

The deal sparked a rare diplomatic spat between the two staunch allies, with Trump berating Australia's prime minister in an angry phone call that led to quick moves in Washington to reaffirm the strength of the relationship.

Asylum seekers on Nauru who are applying to settle in the United States under the refugee swap deal, agreed in the final months of Barack Obama's presidency late last year, told Reuters that planned second-round interview dates with visiting US officials had been postponed indefinitely.

Under the deal, the United States would take up to 1,250 asylum seekers. In return, Australia would take refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

More than a dozen asylum seekers on both Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, site of another Australian offshore detention camp, told Reuters they were afraid for their future since Trump said "extreme vetting" would be used and after his testy phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

"We are deeply concerned about the US deal," Imran Mohammad, 22, a stateless man from the Rohingya ethnic minority in Myanmar, told Reuters by telephone from Manus Island.

"We don't know what to believe and the uncertainty is getting worse and worse," he said. "It is killing us inside every day."

There are around 1,200 refugees, mostly single men, being held at Australian processing camps on Manus Island and Nauru in conditions that have been harshly criticized by the United Nations and human rights agencies.

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