UNHCR, welcomed the agreement 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 those who had not been found to be refugees and remained vulnerable and noted that its endorsement of referrals for resettlement ‘[did] not alter Australia’s obligations under international law, including the right to seek asylum irrespective of the mode of arrival’.
Amnesty International described the announcement as ‘an extreme step in shirking responsibility by the Australian Government’. While noting that the US would give resettled refugees a genuine chance at restarting their lives in a safe place, Amnesty argued that Australia should be ‘leading by example’ given the record levels of global displacement.
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.’
In July 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees criticised Australia’s refusal to honour an understanding that vulnerable refugees with close family ties would be allowed to settle in Australia in exchange for UNHCR’s assistance in the resettlement of refugees to the US.
A number of overseas commentators expressed concern that US resettlement places were being taken up by refugees who were Australia’s responsibility as a matter of international law.