UNHCR accuses Australian gov’t of breach of trust over US refugee deal

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Syrian refugee child arrives safely in Greece
A Syrian refugee child looks on, moments after arriving on a raft with other Syrian refugees on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos. Reuters/Giorgos Moutafis

The Federal Government faces allegations from the United Nations' refugee agency, which alleges a breach of trust over the refugee deal with the United States. The organisation claims the government has broken a promise to resettle refugees with close family ties to Australia.

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the organisation had agreed to assist in resettling refugees on Nauru and Manus Island in the US due to their "dire" humanitarian situation. According to him, they had an understanding that refugees with close family ties in Australia would be allowed to settle here.

"[But] UNHCR has recently been informed by Australia that it refuses to accept even these refugees,” he said. It means some with severe medical conditions or those who have went though traumatic experiences like sexual violence could not receive the support from their family members in Australia.

UNHCR Canberra mission’s Catherine Stubberfield said the organisation had a "clear understanding" that some people can come to Australia. She refused to name those from the Australian government who provided this undertaking, or the date when it was given due to diplomatic conventions.

But Stubberfield maintained that the Federal Government has made its position clear in several meetings over many months. There are claims it was detailed in written correspondence as well. She believes those with an immediate family in Australia may face a complex choice if offered a new life in the US. The organisation, she said, will still review cases of refugees due to travel to the US under the deal.

Volker Turk, UN Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, also said that senior officials of the Australian government gave him a "clear understanding" they could recommend certain refugees be resettled in the country. He told 7.30 that because of humanitarian reasons, there were at least were 36 cases that the government should consider.

"Unfortunately we were told last week that this would not be possible and that these people would not be allowed to settle in Australia," ABC quotes him as saying. He said they were hoping based on understanding that Australia will assist in resettling refugees.

The Australian government has maintained that no refugees on Manus Island or Nauru will be allowed to resettle in the country. This was reiterated by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on Sunday.

A spokesperson for the minister said the position of the Coalition Government has been clear. It has also been consistent that those transferred to regional processing centres will never settle here.

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