At Australian Refugee Camp, a Mix of Hope and Doubts Over U.S. Plans

New York times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/12/world/australia/australia-manus-refugees-resettlement-us.html

SYDNEY, Australia — More than 60 asylum seekers in Australia’s offshore detention program on Manus Island have been called for additional meetings with the American authorities to discuss potential resettlement in the United States, according to several refugees involved in the process.

“I am hopeful that it means my stay on Manus is coming to an end,” said Imran Mohamed, a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar, after receiving a notice about the visit by American officials. “I am really on top of the world right now.”

The latest round of refugee processing comes as asylum seekers on Manus continue to complain of subpar conditions in detention centers where they were moved after the Australian authorities closed a camp where hundreds had been housed for years.

And even as those called to the meetings expressed hope, questions emerged too, as several of the asylum seekers said that no one on the list seemed to be from Iran, Somalia or Sudan — countries that were part of President Trump’s travel ban.

Aziz Muhamat, a Sudanese refugee in Manus, said that of the 63 people called, all were from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Myanmar. Several other refugees concurred.

“Still some uncertainty about the deal,” said Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian Kurd who is an asylum seeker and a journalist.

Human rights advocates said they believed the travel ban on citizens of certain countries did not apply to existing arrangements — like one the Obama administration made in late 2016 to take some refugees from Manus and a second offshore detention camp in Nauru — and they called for greater transparency in the process.

“If the U.S. isn’t going to accept people from certain countries, they should make that crystal clear now so Australia can make alternative arrangements,” said Elaine Pearson, the Australia director for Human Rights Watch. “There’s no time to waste — these refugees have acute mental health problems made worse by years of uncertainty and insecurity on Manus and Nauru.”

A copy of the notification provided to Mr. Mohamed and other refugees says that they will travel to Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, a short flight from Manus, on Wednesday for meetings “with respect to the US Resettlement process.”

It does not say whether anyone will be accepted or when decisions will be made.

American officials have said repeatedly that they expect more refugees on Manus and Nauru to be resettled in the United States in the coming months, but they did not respond to questions on Tuesday seeking additional details.

“The whole thing about the process is that it seems random and uncertain,” said Jana Favero, director of advocacy at the Asylum Seeker Resource Center in Australia. “We’re also getting mixed messages.”

Ms. Favero said that many of the refugees were optimistic about the resettlement deal between Australia and the United States, a source of great friction between Mr. Trump and Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, early this year. “It’s really something that the men are pinning all their hopes on,” she said.

She explained that several men had been approved and had completed medical examinations, but remained uncertain of when they would be moved to the United States.

“We’ve tried to get information at times,” she said, “but we don’t know any more about the process other than what the men are telling us.”

“What we do know is that, for those refugees who have been resettled in the U.S., it’s been life-changing,” she added. “We’ve got people who’ve already found jobs and have their kids in school. They’ve said, “Wow, the American people are so friendly.’ ”

Mr. Mohamed, the Rohingya refugee from Myanmar, gets up before dawn each day to exercise, learned English while in detention and has written a 1,200-page autobiography, in longhand on printer paper. He said he would love nothing more than to join the 54 others from Manus and Nauru who had already been resettled in the United States.

“I have been stuck in many camps,” he said. “I hope everything goes well. God willing.”