The United Nations refugee agency has criticised the government for its failure to honour what it says was an agreement to resettle some of the refugees detained on Nauru and Manus Island in Australia.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement on Monday afternoon that Australia's policy of offshore processing in Papua New Guinea and Nauru had caused "extensive, avoidable suffering for far too long".
More than 2,000 people were still "languishing in unacceptable circumstances", Grandi said.
"Families have been separated and many have suffered physical and psychological harm."
The office of the UNHCR had agreed to help with the relocation of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru to the United States following an agreement between Australia and the US, he said.
"We agreed to do so on the clear understanding that vulnerable refugees with close family ties in Australia would ultimately be allowed to settle there," Grandi said.
But he had "recently been informed by Australia that it refuses to accept even those refugees", he said.
"This means, for example, that some with serious medical conditions or who have undergone traumatic experiences, including sexual violence, cannot receive the support of their close family members residing in Australia."
Grandi said the Australian government’s decision to deny them the possibility of resettlement was "contrary to the fundamental principles of family unity and refugee protection, and to common decency", he said.
Following the Australia-US bilateral agreement on relocation, the office of the UNHCR has referred more than 1,100 refugees to the US over the past eight months. Another 500 people are still waiting on the outcome of the refugee status determination process being carried out by authorities in PNG and Nauru.
Immigration minister Peter Dutton said on Sunday there was no way the government would change its mind on the Australia-US resettlement deal.
"No, and people will not be coming to Australia, I've said that consistently," Dutton told Sky News.
Amnesty International Australia's refugee coordinator Dr Graham Thom said families separated between Australia, Nauru and Manus Island had waited in "distress" for eight months to find out what the US settlement deal means for their families.
“Now UNHCR has confirmed that the Australian government is choosing to deliberately separate families, refusing to reunite them despite having the power to do so," Thom said in a statement.
"This is clearly punitive – another measure designed to punish people, including parents separated from their children."
BuzzFeed News has contacted Dutton's office for comment.
Gina Rushton is a breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
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