Exclusive: Australia-U.S. refugee swap again in doubt as officials exit Nauru

SYDNEY/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. officials interviewing refugees held in an Australian-run offshore detention center left the facility abruptly, three detainees told Reuters on Saturday, throwing further doubt over a plan to resettle many of the detainees in America.

U.S. officials halted screening interviews and departed the Pacific island of Nauru on Friday, two weeks short of their scheduled timetable and a day after Washington said the United States had reached its annual refugee intake cap.

“U.S. (officials) were scheduled to be on Nauru until July 26 but they left on Friday,” one refugee told Reuters, requesting anonymity as he did not want to jeopardize his application for U.S. resettlement.

In the United States, a senior member of the union that represents refugee officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a Department of Homeland Security agency, told Reuters his own trip to Nauru was not going forward as scheduled.

Jason Marks, chief steward of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924, told Reuters his trip has now been pushed back and it was unclear whether it will actually happen.

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 U.S. officials or the future of a refugee swap agreement between Australia and the United States that President Donald Trump earlier this year branded a “dumb deal”.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Sunday the deal was progressing as expected, reiterating the government had assurances from the Trump administration.

“The quota will roll over…

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