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Australia-U.S. Refugee Deal: Chaos As White House Gives Conflicting Reports

Sean Spicer confirmed the deal was on. Someone else said it was still being considered.
Refugees on Nauru and Manus Island will be considered for resettlement in the U.S.
Fairfax Media
Refugees on Nauru and Manus Island will be considered for resettlement in the U.S.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed the U.S. will take refugees currently on Nauru and Manus Island, but a different White House source has reportedly said the deal is still being considered by President Trump.

In response to a question from ABC correspondent Zoe Daniel, Spicer told a White House press conference the new administration would "honour" the deal made by President Obama. But mere hours later, Daniel said she was contacted by another White House source to say the deal was still under consideration by Trump.

"We've just had a call from a different person at the White House, not Sean Spicer but another spokesperson wanting to clarify... the President himself is still considering whether to actually go ahead with the deal, has not fully decided whether to do that," Daniel told ABC 24.

"But that, if he does decide to do so, it would 'be only because of the longstanding relationship with Australia'. I then asked her whether she meant that a decision would be made to accept people after they had gone through the extreme vetting procedure... She said 'No, it's about whether to go ahead with the deal at all'."

Speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he was not worried about the confusion over the deal.

"The Trump Administration has committed to progress with the arrangements to honour the deal, if you like, that was entered into with the Obama Administration, and that was the assurance the President gave me when we spoke on the weekend," Turnbull said.

A refugee deal was announced last November, under former president Barack Obama, where Australia would take refugees from Central America in exchange for the U.S. resettling people currently on Nauru and Manus Island. No details on the number of refugees included, or the timeframe for resettlement, were announced. Many refugees in those centres are from the Middle East, and combined with Trump's previously announced plans to ban Muslim immigration to America, there were fears the deal was in doubt under the new administration.

But in a press conference on Wednesday morning (AEDT), White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed the deal was still firmly on, and that the refugees would be subject to the "extreme vetting" outlined in Donald Trump's controversial travel ban.

"There will be extreme vetting applied to all of them, that is part and parcel of the deal that was made and it was made by the Obama administration with the full backing of the United States Government," Spicer said in response to a question from Australia's ABC.

"The President, in accordance with that deal to honour what had been agreed upon by the United States Government and ensuring that vetting will take place in the same manner we are doing it now will go forward."

Spicer said the deal would include 1250 people, "mostly in Papua New Guinea". Many of those refugees on Manus Island are from Iran, one of the countries included in Trump's travel ban. Spicer implied those people would still be considered, albeit subject to the administration's "extreme vetting" procedures.

He did not detail what the "extreme vetting" involves, and little information has come from the new administration about this new immigration screening policy, but some details and possibilities have emerged. The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, John Kelly, said it could include checking an immigrant's social media and web history.

The Manus Regional Processing Centre
Fairfax Media
The Manus Regional Processing Centre

"It might be certainly an accounting of what websites they visit. It might be telephone contact information so that we can see who they're talking to, but, again, all of this is under development," he said.

"Those are the kind of things we're looking at. Social media. We have to be convinced that people that come here, there's a reasonable expectation that we don't know who they are and what they're coming here for and what their backgrounds are."

Sky News had on Tuesday night reported on the number of refugees included in the deal, but Spicer's answer was the first official confirmation as to the exact detail of the Australia-U.S. swap.


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