The US has agreed to accept 1,800 refugees held at Australian-funded camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, according to media reports. Human rights groups have criticized the conditions in the camps.
The Australian newspaper reported on Friday that the US and Australia were close to announcing an agreement for up to 1,800 mainly Muslim refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia on the island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull declined to comment on negotiations with the US. "There's always speculation about these things" Turnbull said on Melbourne Radio. "And we never comment on them."
The US Embassy in Australia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
An agreement struck with the administration of President Barack Obama could be opposed by his successor, Donald Trump who has called for tight restrictions on Muslim immigration into the US.
Human rights groups have condemned the conditions in the camps which they have condemned as an abrogation of Australia's responsibilities as a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention. There have been street protests over the treatment of the refugees (photo).
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said this week he was looking for countries that would accept all asylum seekers bound for
Australia, including those who have had their refugee claims rejected, but who refuse to go home. Australia has refused to resettle any refugee who has arrived by boat since the date of its tough policy on refugees was announced in July 2013.
Legislation was introduced to parliament this week that would ban refugees who resettle elsewhere from ever visiting Australia as a tourist, either to do business or as an Australian's spouse.
The government maintains there are 14,000 asylum seekers waiting in Indonesia for Australia to relax its policy before attempting the journey. Since July 2014 no people-smuggling operations have brought asylum seekers to Australia although 30 boats have been turned back to Indonesia by the Australian navy.