CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - Australia is close to resettling the 12,000 refugees from the war in Syria and Iraq it promised to urgently take more than a year ago, an official said Wednesday.
All 12,000 have been issued visas and more than 10,000 have already been brought from Middle Eastern refugee camps to Australia, Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton said in a statement. The remainder will be resettled in the coming months, he said.
The refugees are in addition to the 13,750 refugees that Australia accepts each year.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced in September 2015 that the 12,000 refugees would be resettled as quickly as possible. He was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull, the current prime minister, less than a week later.
Peter Shergold, coordinator-general for refugee resettlement in New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, said careful screening would hold up the resettlement process.
Some conservative government lawmakers had urged the Cabinet to rethink the commitment because of the threat that extremists among the Syrian refugees might pose in Australia.
Turnbull told President Barack Obama's Leaders' Summit on Refugees in September that Australia, which has a population of 24 million, would increase its annual refugee intake by 5,000 to 18,750 places from mid-2018.
Australia also agreed to accept an unspecified number of Hondurans and Salvadorans from a U.S.-led program to resettle refugees currently in a camp in Costa Rica.
Obama then agreed to accept up to 1,250 refugees rejected by Australia because they attempted to arrive by boat. Australia pays Papua New Guinea and Nauru to keep more than 2,000 asylum seekers in island camps as a deterrent to boat arrivals.
President Donald Trump has agreed to honor the deal, although he described it as "dumb."