The United Nations' refugee agency has accused the Federal Government of a breach of trust over the United States refugee deal, saying it has broken a promise to resettle refugees with close family ties to Australia.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, said the organisation had "exceptionally" agreed to help resettle refugees on Nauru and Manus Island in the US because of the "dire" humanitarian situation they faced.
"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," Mr Grandi said.
"[But] UNHCR has recently been informed by Australia that it refuses to accept even these refugees.
"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."
What is the US-Australia agreement?
- Agreement would cover people on Manus Island and Nauru found to be genuine refugees.
- Depending on how many pass USA's "extreme vetting" process, the ABC understands the offer would be made to the vast majority of people still in offshore detention centres, as well as those processed offshore but are currently in Australia due to medical reasons.
- The offer would not be made to those who have accepted resettlement elsewhere.
- Federal Government has said it would prioritise families first.
The Federal Government has always maintained that no refugees on Manus Island or Nauru will ever be allowed to resettle in Australia.
But Catherine Stubberfield from the UNHCR's Canberra mission also said they had a "clear understanding" that some people would be able to come here.
"We've maintained from the beginning that allowing people with close family being able to come to Australia is a minimum, and unfortunately that's not being honoured," Ms Stubberfield said.
Ms Stubberfield was not willing to say exactly who from the Australian Government gave this undertaking, or when it was given — citing diplomatic conventions.
But she insisted the Federal Government made its position clear in multiple meetings over several months, and it was detailed in written correspondence as well.
UN Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Turk, also said senior Government officials had given him a "clear understanding" they could recommend certain refugees be resettled in Australia.
He told 7.30 there were 36 cases that should be considered by the Government due to humanitarian reasons.
"Unfortunately we were told last week that this would not be possible and that these people would not be allowed to settle in Australia," he said.
"We were hoping very much, based on the understanding, that Australia would be part of the solution, that we would find an agreement that would allow them to settle in Australia."
Ms Stubberfield said refugees with close family in Australia may now face a difficult choice if offered a new life in the US.
"Families are being separated. We've spoken with people who are distraught who are forced to now make impossible decision, who are telling us they love their families but they don't what to do because they fear they'll be left behind indefinitely," Ms Stubberfield said.
She said the UNHCR would continue to review and endorse the cases of refugees due to travel to the US under the agreement — but only with reluctance.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton reiterated on Sunday that no-one currently on Manus Island or Nauru would ever be allowed to come to Australia.
A spokeswoman for Mr Dutton said "the position of the Coalition Government has been clear and consistent: those transferred to regional processing centres will never settle in Australia".