The resettlement of refugees from an Australia-run detention centre on the Pacific island of Nauru as part of a deal with the US has been thrown into doubt after American officials interviewing detainees left the facility abruptly.
The officials halted screening interviews and departed the island on Friday, two weeks short of their scheduled timetable and a day after Washington said the US had reached its annual refugee intake cap.
US [officials] were scheduled to be on Nauru until 26 July but they left on Friday, one refugee told Reuters, requesting anonymity as he did not want to jeopardise his application for resettlement.
In the US, a senior member of the union that represents refugee officers at the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a Department of Homeland Security agency, told Reuters his own trip to Nauru was cancelled.
On Saturday, the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment. However, the USCIS said on Saturday that the program would continue but offered no details.
We do not discuss the exact dates of USCIS circuit rides to adjudicate refugees applications. However, we are planning return trips, the agency said in a statement. It is not uncommon for the dates of tentatively-planned refugee circuit ride trips worldwide to change due to a wide variety of factors.
The Australian immigration department declined to comment on the whereabouts of the US officials or the future of a refugee-swap agreement between Australia and the US that Donald Trump earlier this year branded a dumb deal.
An indefinite postponement of the deal would have significant repercussions for Australias pledge to close a second detention centre on Papua New Guineas Manus Island on 31 October. Only 70 refugees, less than 10% of the total detainees held in the camp, have completed US processing.