On Sunday, the Turnbull government announced a one-off deal that will see processed refugees on Nauru and Manus Island resettled in the US.
As of October 2016, there were 1,616 people on Manus Island and Nauru with positive refugee determinations.
Asylum seekers whose refugee claims are negative are not included in the deal. They can remain on Nauru on a 20-year visa, resettle in Cambodia or Papua New Guinea, or return to their country of origin.
Sister Elizabeth Delaney, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, offered cautious support for the government’s announcement.
“People in churches across Australia today are thanking God that our government has finally understood that Australians will not tolerate the cruelty being inflicted on people who’ve been incarcerated indefinitely in remote, desolate locations within Nauru and Manus province,” she said.
Misha Coleman, executive officer of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, said the deal is a clear sign that Australia’s offshore detention regime must be dismantled.
“The fact the government has finally acknowledged that the refugee prisons are unsustainable means we are cautiously optimistic that we may be coming to the end of cruel and archaic offshore processing,” she said.
“We also reject the need to send people who are currently here in Australia – the Let Them Stay group – back to Nauru, before they are eligible for resettlement to the US or elsewhere. That is playing games with families here, many who have very young children”.
Confusion still surrounds the details of the deal, with the Turnbull government unable to confirm how many refugees will be accepted or the timeframe for resettlement.
There is uncertainty about the fate of the 300 plus asylum seekers who had been brought to the Australian mainland for medical treatment, including babies born to mothers transferred from Nauru.
It is also unclear whether the incoming Donald Trump administration will honour the deal, given his vocal opposition to Muslim immigration.
The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce said it will closely monitor the deal to ensure safe and fair resettlement of all refugees.
“The devil is in the detail. We are particularly worried about the linking of the ‘lifetime refugee ban’ legislation with this announcement, specifically for the 20 families on Nauru who have family here in Australia,” Ms Coleman said.
“If we needed any more proof that the lifetime refugee ban was motivated by nothing more than ugly partisan politics then we now have it. This announcement exposes the ban completely as even more irrelevant.
“Every single refugee must be given safe and fair resettlement. That is the only standard by which any international deal can be determined a success.
“Not a single person must be left behind. The Turnbull government cannot think that sending some people to the US will distract from the further misery of others.”
The Australian government said women, children and families will be given priority, which raises the question of whether the men on Manus Island will be resettled in the US.
Behrouz Boochani, a refugee detained on Manus Island for the past three years, expressed mixed feelings at the announcement.
“I’m so glad that people will go to a safe place eventually but on the other hand I’m so angry and sad because I don’t agree with the way that they processed people and treated asylum seekers in Manus. Everything is illegal and by force,” Mr Boochani wrote in Guardian Australia.
“I feel that I am a not a human because they have used my body for propaganda to send a message to the world and say ‘go away now’.
“It’s hard for me to leave this island without any justice.”