Australia announced Tuesday at the U.N. General Assembly that it will be part of a U.S.-led plan to accept refugees from Central America. Australia's annual intake of refugees is expected to climb to 19,000 over the next two years.
"We will also participate in the U.S.-led program to resettle Central American refugees currently in a resettlement center in Costa Rica," said Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaking at the Leaders Summit on Refugees at the U.N. General Assembly.
In July, the U.S. announced a plan to increase refugee intake from Central America amid ongoing violence in the northern triangle, comprised of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. As many as 200 refugees at a time will be hosted in Costa Rica while U.S. immigration authorities process refugee applications, after which they will be allowed to resettle in the U.S.
Turnbull said that Australia’s approach to refugees was “both principled and pragmatic.” While stressing the importance of border security and Australia’s offshore detention policy, he also said that countries must do more to address the "push" factors of human displacement.
"Australians support these actions because they have confidence that our migration system is well managed," said Turnbull.
Australia has been criticized internationally for its tough border policy of mandatory detention whereby anyone attempting to enter the country by sea is detained and processed in detention centers on Manus Island, off Papua New Guinea, or the Pacific island of Nauru, often for years.
“Australia's offshore policy is not based on border protection, it is based on torture," said journalist Behrouz Boochani, an ethnic Kurd, of Turnbull's announcement in New York. Boochani is currently detained on Manus Island as a refugee.
"Please don’t allow (the) Australian government to pretend it has a good policy for refugees and please speak against this cruel policy," he told The Guardian.
Labor Party opposition leader Bill Shorten downplayed Turnbull's announcement, saying that he has “reheated” former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s refugee policies, noting that there are still almost 2,000 people who remained detained on Manus Island and Nauru.
In August, on the back of leaked documents detailing more than 2,000 incidents of violence and abuse on Manus Island, the government announced they would close the detention center.
While rights and advocacy groups welcomed the announcement, many were skeptical that the announcement would not make a difference to world refugee numbers and that Australia should do more to help.
"If you weigh that up against the burden that's put on, particularly third world countries and countries close to conflict zones, we shouldn't kid ourselves that we're actually in the front line of sharing the burden on this, we're not," said Australian Refugee Council President Phil Glendenning.