Refugees to remain in PNG if no US resettlement: Australia

SYDNEY: Asylum-seekers sent by Australia to a Papua New Guinea camp will be resettled there if they are not offered a place in the United States, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Sunday.

Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to enter the country to offshore processing centres in PNG's Manus Island and Nauru, blocking them from resettling in Australia.

The conservative government has instead worked to relocate those found to be refugees within PNG or to third countries such as the United States and Cambodia.

The push to move the more than 800 refugees on Manus has sped up with the camp due to close down after a PNG Supreme Court ruling last year declared that holding people there was unconstitutional and illegal.

"There are officials from the US, both Homeland Security and State Departments, looking at each individual case at the moment," Dutton told Sky News, without stating how many refugees might be accepted by Washington.

He said those who miss out are "staying in PNG, that's the arrangement as it currently stands".

"If people have been found not to be refugees, then the expectation is that they will be returned home."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is in Port Moresby for talks with his PNG counterpart Peter O'Neill, would not comment on whether refugees would be moved to the Nauru camp, which currently holds 380 men, women and children.

Only 36 refugees have taken up the option of staying in PNG, Dutton said, with others reportedly citing safety fears as a reason for not wanting to settle in the Pacific country.

Successive Australian governments have sought to stem waves of boat migration by people from war-torn countries, using harsh policies including turning back the vessels.

A resettlement agreement with Phnom Penh struck in 2014 was criticised after only a few refugees made the move.

The US resettlement agreement hit global headlines earlier this year after President Donald Trump reportedly lambasted Turnbull during a phone call and attacked it as a "dumb deal".

Canberra has long defended its policy of denying asylum-seekers resettlement in Australia, saying it has prevented deaths at sea. — AFP