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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s vaunted US ‘solution’ to resettle hundreds of refugees from Manus Island and Nauru faces collapse as the freshly minted US President Donald Trump eyes new bans on immigration.
The deal was nutted out in secret in the dying months of the Obama administration.
But now, just a day after scotching the contentious 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, Mr Trump is believed to be on the cusp of delivering on another of his pre-election commitments – a promise to slap a blanket ban on migration from a raft of countries associated with Islamic fundamentalism.
Also being contemplated is a temporary ban on all refugees entering the US regardless of origin.
According to sources, Mr Trump will, within the next 24 hours, sign an executive order banning US entry to any refugees from Syria as well as those from Iran, Iraq, Somalis, Libya, Yemen and Sudan.
Other countries could yet be added to that list.
That could effectively end the US/Australia resettlement deal or limit it to a much smaller number meaning that most refugees held in the two centres of Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, would continue to languish indefinitely.
Iran makes up the bulk of the refugee population held in the two detention facilities on Australia’s behalf, with significant representation from other Islamic countries also, including Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
On Nauru, there are also many refugees from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
There has been little movement in the populations of refugees at the two centres since 2014 when the Department of Border Protection advised Parliament that there were more than 500 Iranian asylum seekers or refugees contained at the Manus Island centre, and more than 120 from Afghanistan. There is also more than 100 men in Manus Island originating from Iraq, and over 150 Iranians on Nauru.
US immigration officials were present at Manus Island last week and spoke to hopeful refugees, indicating that the process of evaluation for suitability remained on track.
Notices posted at the centres have advised detainees that the formal assessments by US immigration officials were to commence in February but could take between 6 to 12 months to complete.
Mr Turnbull and his Immigration Minister Peter Dutton announced a special one-off resettlement deal with the US in mid-November last year, but both were deliberately vague about the final numbers to eventually be granted resettlement by America.
However doubts about the robustness of that agreement quickly emerged, given the ongoing US presidential election, and the specific comments made by Mr Trump on the campaign hustings regarding the perceived security threat posed for America posed by nationals from certain countries.
Mr Trump is expected to sign the executive order banning immigration on a country-by-country basis at the Department of Homeland Security after he swears in his new Secretary for Homeland Security, Marine General John Kelly.
Fairfax Media has contacted Mr Dutton for comment.
An effective repudiation of the refugee resettlement deal by the Trump-led White House would be the second blow to the Turnbull government in as many days after Mr Trump scuttled the TPP by withdrawing the US from its purview.
The Australian government was left scrambling to keep its politically crucial trade liberalisation ambitions alive leading to a shrill exchange between Mr Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten over who was at fault.
In a tit-for-tat brawl, Mr Turnbull called Mr Shorten a weakling on trade while Mr Shorten branded the Prime Minister delusional and accused him of lacking the courage to blame the new US president for a return to protectionism.