The Australian government has reportedly resettled as humanitarian migrants two Rwandan men who had been charged with murder, on request from the US government.
Under the secret deal, reported by US outlet Politico on Thursday, Australia accepted Leonidas Bimenyimana and Gregoire Nyaminani, essentially as refugees, in November.
At the same time the Australian government was arguing against proposed legislation for evacuating sick refugees and asylum seekers from Manus Island and Nauru to Australia, claiming it would strip the government of the power to prevent murderers and other criminals coming into Australia.
According to the Politico report, the two men are former members of the Hutu rebel group Army for the Liberation of Rwanda who had confessed to their involvement in the 1999 murder of eight tourists – four Britons, two Americans and two New Zealanders – on a gorilla-watching trip in the Ugandan rainforests.
They were brought to the US for trial in 2003, alongside a third Rwandan man, but after a protracted legal wrangle a US judge ruled the men had been tortured in Rwanda and the case was dropped. The men then claimed they could not be returned to Rwanda because they would be persecuted. All three have been incarcerated in the US detention system until the Australian deal was sealed.
Some people who were at the gorilla park on the day of the murder questioned whether the Rwandan men had “legitimately” confessed, and expressed doubt that the FBI had actually found the three men responsible, Politico reported.
At the same time as the men were reportedly resettled in Australia, parliament was beginning a rancorous debate over proposed legislation for medically evacuating sick refugees and asylum seekers from Manus Island and Nauru to Australia.
The government insisted passing the bill would mean criminals, including murderers, could be brought to Australia.
“It doesn’t provide for the usual arrangements which would enable us to reject someone coming to Australia because they have a criminal history,” Scott Morrison said in February.
“They may be a paedophile, they may be a rapist, they may be a murderer and this bill would mean that we would just have to take them.”
The report has also renewed questions around the deal struck between Australia and the Obama administration for the US to resettle up to 1,250 refugees from Australia’s offshore processing centres.
One of the architects of that deal, Anne Richard, the former US assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, told Guardian Australia the offer came from a sense in the US that the situation on Nauru and Manus Island was “bad” and they expected Australia to “do more” to help other refugees in return, including central Americans in Costa Rican refugee camps.
There was speculation that it included a formal “people swap”, with the US, a claim that was dismissed by both sides. However a transcript of a phone call between the then Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and newly elected US president Donal Trump was leaked in August 2017.
In apparently seeking to reassure Trump, who labelled the arrangement the “worst deal ever”, Turnbull said Australia would be taking people the Obama administration “were very keen on getting out of the United States”.
“We will take more. We will take anyone that you want us to take,” Turnbull said.
Australian and US government authorities have been contacted for comment.
More to come.