U.S. officials began taking fingerprints of asylum seekers in an Australian-run camp on the Pacific island of Nauru on Monday (March 20), signalling that vetting of applicants for resettlement in what U.S. President Donald Trump called a “dumb deal” has restarted.
Interviews with more than half a dozen detainees on Nauru confirmed the U.S. Homeland Security officials arrived on Saturday (March 18), with meetings with detainees beginning on Monday.
Australia agreed with former U.S. President Barack Obama late last year for the United States to resettle up to 1,250 asylum seekers held in much-criticised processing camps on Papua New Guinea and Nauru. In return, Australia would resettle refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Trump labelled the agreement a “dumb deal” in a Tweet, but said he would stand by it.
Two asylum seekers, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of jeopardizing their applications to settle in the United States, told Reuters by phone that Homeland Security officials did not ask any specific questions. Other refugees showed Reuters appointment slips to meet U.S. officials.
Similar biometric data collection would begin at the Australian-run detention centre in Papua New Guinea in early April, detainees were told by immigration officials last week.
Australia maintains a strict policy of not allowing anyone who tries to reach the country by boat to settle there, instead detaining them in the camps on Nauru and PNG in conditions that have been harshly criticised by rights groups.
The U.S. security interviews with asylum seekers on Nauru were cancelled last month amid uncertainty about what constituted the “extreme vetting” Trump promised to apply to the 1,250 refugees it agreed to accept.
A spokeswoman for Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton declined to comment. The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment.