In 2016 UNHCR welcomed the announcement as a ‘much-needed, long-term solution for some refugees who have been held in Nauru and Papua New Guinea for over three years and who remain in a precarious situation.’ However, it expressed grave concern for people on Nauru and Manus Island who have not been found to be refugees, but who nevertheless remain vulnerable.
In July 2017 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi issued a statement criticising the Australian government’s refusal to honour an understanding that vulnerable refugees with close family ties would be allowed to resettle in Australia in exchange for the UNHCR’s assistance in the relocation of refugees under the US-Australia resettlement deal. The High Commissioner stated that UNHCR ‘has no other choice’ but to endorse the deal in order to avoid prolonging the uncertainty faced by refugees on Manus and Nauru.
In 2016 Amnesty International described the announcement as ‘an extreme step in shirking responsibility by the Australian Government.’ While noting that the US will give resettled refugees a genuine chance at restarting their lives in a safe place, Amnesty argued that as one of the richest countries in the world, Australia should be ‘leading by example’ – especially given record levels of global displacement.
In 2016 the Human Rights Law Centre said that the arrangement showed that the Australian government had ‘finally conceded that the Manus and Nauru detention arrangements are unsustainable.’
In 2016 Save the Children welcomed the plan as ‘an opportunity to restore hope and provide a pathway towards a safe and prosperous future for refugees who have spent years languishing on Nauru and Manus Island.’ However, it noted that Australia should work towards ‘a more humane and effective immigration system’ and engage ‘as closely as possible with other countries in the Asia Pacific region to establish a functioning regional protection framework.’
A number of overseas commentators expressed bewilderment and concern that US resettlement places were being taken up by refugees who were Australia’s responsibility as a matter of international law.