US to accept 54 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru in first intake

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has welcomed an announcement by the United States that it will accept 54 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru under the agreement struck last year with Barack Obama.

The first group of refugees to be resettled in the US will be told in coming days. More are expected to be accepted in the near future under the agreement for about 1250 people to go to the US from both islands.

"This is good news," Mr Turnbull told Channel 7 on Wednesday morning. "There will be about 25 from both Manus and Nauru [who] will be going to the United States. I just want to thank, again, President Trump for continuing with that arrangement."

A US State Department official confirmed a "first group" of 54 refugees had been approved and would travel to the US in coming weeks, and more should be resettled in coming months.

That represents a fraction of the refugees on Manus Island and Nauru. There had been 1783 refugees certified on both islands - 1053 on Nauru and 730 on Manus - under Operation Sovereign Borders at the end of August, according to the Australian government

Mr Turnbull said a "large number" of refugees were still in the vetting pipeline and it would be up to the US how many people it ultimately accepted.

On Tuesday, the local representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Thomas Albrecht, told Fairfax Media he was very confident the US would ultimately take a "very significant number" of refugees from Manus and Nauru.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton thanked the US and said the first departures would commence in a matter of weeks.

"The refugees will receive notification of the outcome of their application to resettle under the US refugee admissions program in coming days," he said in a statement released Wednesday morning.

"Processing of other individuals continues and further decisions by US authorities are expected in due course."

Mr Dutton stressed the resettlement arrangement with the US was a one-off deal that would not be available to any asylum seekers who tried to come to Australia now.

Labor's immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann also offered his gratitude to the US and wished the refugees a "safe journey".

Greens immigration spokesman Nick McKim said the development was "good news" for those accepted, but there was still "massive uncertainty for everyone else".

"Fifty people a week is not going to cut it," he told Fairfax Media. "Even if they do move rapidly and they take a significant number of people, which is still not certain, there are still going to be many hundreds of people left behind."

The agreement, struck in 2016 when Mr Obama was US President, was derided by his successor Mr Trump, who famously branded it "the worst deal ever" during a heated phone call with Mr Turnbull in January.

The Prime Minister on Wednesday acknowledged: "President Trump had some reservations about it to say the least, but nonetheless he is honouring that commitment made by his predecessor."

Fairfax Media spoke to refugees on Manus Island on Tuesday after they were informed of appointments with US authorities to be held on Wednesday.

Akash, a 28-year-old Bangladeshi man, said: "I am excited and I'm so happy. I love America. I [do] not dream of Australia, I dream of America."

Many of the refugees have been on Manus Island and Nauru for more than four years since the processing centres were first reopened under the former Labor government.

Since that time, it has been bipartisan policy not to resettle in Australia any refugees who arrive by boat. Refugees have had the option to resettle in Cambodia, but few took up that offer.

The story US to accept 54 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru in first intake first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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