A few months after that famously tense phone call in January with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, President Donald Trump reluctantly agreed to honor an Obama-era agreement to resettle up to 1,250 refugees languishing in Australian offshore detention camps.
But now there's a new wrinkle.
Papua New Guinea, the country where one of the two camps is located, says it is shutting down the Manus Island detention center on October 31. In 2016, Papua New Gunea's supreme court ruled the camp was unconstitutional. Ever since, Australia's been trying to find a way to resettle the refugees.
Australia's strict immigration policy does not allow asylum seekers arriving by boat into Australia — even for processing. Instead, the Australian military intercepts them at sea and returns them to their country of embarkation, usually Indonesia, or it to either the Manus Island camp in Papua New Guinea or a second camp on the tiny island nation of Nauru. Australia pays the two countries to host and manage the camps.
Technically, these are immigration processing camps. But there hasn't been much processing. Some of the detainees have been there for more than four years.
The deal Australia struck with President Obama was supposed to resolve that. That's why Turnbull pushed Trump so hard in that January phone call.
It also was a bilateral agreement. In exchange for the US agreeing to resettle refugees from the Manus Island detention camp, Australia agreed to resettle refugees from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador who are languishing in a US-run detention camp in Costa Rica.
When asked if the US had accepted any of the refugees on Manus Island yet, a State Department spokesman responded in an email: "The U.S. has not yet accepted any of these refugees for resettlement." That begs the question: How will the US fulfill its obligation to resettle the refugees once the Manus Island camp shuts down?
"We are aware that the Regional Processing Center on Manus Island may close on October 31, 2017," continued a State Department spokesman. "If this should happen, we will identify another interview location for refugees referred by UNHCR for resettlement consideration. The closure of the Regional Processing Center does not affect the eligibility of refugees who have accessed the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program."
Even some good news this week for the men in the Manus Island camp was overshadowed by the fact that they have nowhere to go. An Australian court accepted the terms of a 70 million Australian dollar settlement (about $56 million) for 1,300 past and current detainees on Manus Island. The class action lawsuit alleged detainees had been housed in inhumane conditons below Australian standards, given inadequate medical treatment and exposed to systemic abuse and violence. The government settled instead of going to trial. But it's not clear if the men on Manus Island will get their payments before the camp closes, nor what will happen to the men after the camp closes.
For the roughly 800 men still at the Manus Island detention center, their fate is totally uncertain.
From PRI's The World ©2017 PRI