In a deal struck in 2016 by Australia and the US under former leaders Malcolm Turnbull and Barack Obama, Washington publicly agreed to take in up to 1,250 refugees, predominantly from Iran, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, who were being held in Australian-run offshore island camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. The deal was done after Australia, also publicly, agreed to resettle Central American refugees from camps in Costa Rica.
But in a secret arrangement, Australia also agreed to take in at least two of three Rwandans who were brought to the US to face trial — and potentially the federal death penalty — on charges of involvement in the brutal murder of eight tourists, including two Americans and two New Zealanders, who were on a gorilla-watching visit to the Ugandan rainforest in 1999. While the three Rwandans, who were members of Hutu rebel group Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALIR), confessed to the murders, the American case fell apart after a judge ruled the men were tortured in their home country. That left the trio stuck in limbo, lacking the legal status to remain in the U.S., but fighting not to be returned home over concerns of persecution.
The country partly relieved America’s headache by resettling two of the men, Leonidas Bimenyimana and Gregoire Nyaminani, in Australia last November. The third, Francois Karake, told POLITICO he too met with an Australian embassy official, but he remains in the US, potentially because of an altercation that injured a guard at an immigration detention center in September 2015.
Attorneys for the three men did not respond to repeated questions about the transfer, while U.S. and Australian officials declined to comment. However, several people close to the Rwandans confirmed to POLITICO that Australia accepted Bimenyimana and Nyaminani as “humanitarian” migrants — essentially refugees — at America’s request.