Yesterday, 72 Sri Lankan men were hand delivered this letter, addressed to each individual asylum seeker at the Nauru Processing Centre:

Mr ___
Nauru Processing Centre

Dear Mr ___ ,

I refer to your Refugee Status Assessment (RSA) by the Australian Government. We are pleased to inform you that after a thorough assessment of your refugee claims and careful consideration of all available information, the Australian Government has determined that you are a refugee as defined in the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugees Convention).

Resettlement opportunities in other safe countries are actively being pursued on your behalf. You will be kept informed of our progress.

As you have been found to be a refugee as defined in the Refugees Convention, you will not be returned to your country of claimed persecution and the current arrangements to provide you with support, including accommodation, food, clothing and medical care will continue.

Yours Sincerely,

Authorised Officer.

Crikey understands that none of the lucky recipients of the letter, or their lawyers, have been given any further indication of what part of the globe, and when, they might be sent to.

Labor’s immigration spokesperson Tony Burke had this to say this morning: “The truth is, of the people who have been resettled in Nauru, more than 1,000 have been resettled either in Australia or in New Zealand, where they subsequently get access to come to Australia. Fewer than 50 have been settled in Europe or North America.”

But with an election teetering on the horizon like the proverbial Tampa, these newly minted refugees are political poison — so it’s the USA (or New Zealand, or Scandinavia, or somewhere in Europe) or bust.

But one refugee sector insider told Crikey that the men had “Buckleys and none,” of going anywhere before the election, they’re “not going to get off that island for a while.”

“I suspect that Andrews’ spokesperson floating the possibility that the US could be considered is an absolute furphy, but it’s probably very unhelpful at the moment. The last place in the lead up to an election campaign that you’d be thinking of resettling people, given that you never have before, would be the US,” says the insider.

David Manne from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre (currently representing 27 of the Sri Lankan refugees) told Crikey, “At this stage we have no idea of where or when they’ll go.”

And the refugee sector insider says this extension of uncertainty is yet another failure of the Pacific Solution. “If these people were in Australia, they’d be released immediately…When you look at the 43 Indonesians from Papua province earlier this year, once they were deemed to be refugees and were granted Australian protection, that release was immediate…They were put on a plane to Perth from Christmas Island, then to Melbourne where the Papuan community welcomed them with open arms, they were repatriated in a matter of days.”

But for the Sri Lankan refugees unlucky enough to be taken to Nauru, the Australian government will have been furiously negotiating with countries like New Zealand and Sweden who have reluctantly taken refugees before to agree to do so again. “But those countries could say, as did New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clarke did last time, Australia has an obligation under the convention, we do our bit, you do your bit…,” says the insider.

“You can subcontract your detention and processing but you cannot subcontract your responsibility under the UN convention for refugees.”

So how long are these men to be left in limbo? “I imagine there’d be pressure from Nauru to repatriate them quickly,” Paul Power from the Refugee Council told Crikey. “But the experience with the Pacific Solution has been that other countries are reluctant to take responsibility for people they see as Australia’s responsibility… You need a government that’s supportive of Australian policy or a country like the US that has a similar perceived political problem that they would like Australia to assist with….”

But that hasn’t stopped Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews talking up the effectiveness of Australia’s border protection policies this morning:

The successful reduction in the number of people seeking to enter Australia unlawfully has been a direct result of the Howard Government’s clear policy that persons who seek to enter Australia illegally will not be settled in Australia.

Yet Crikey was also told: “Let’s remember that the majority of unauthorised arrivals, people who land in Australia without documents or are seeking protection, arrive by air. We don’t talk about that.”

Power agrees. “All the stats that are available about these so called unauthorised boat arrivals shows that the percentage of people who come to Australia in desperate circumstances in leaky boats are more likely to have valid claims than those who come by air,” says Power. If asylum seekers are lucky enough to get their hands on a plane ticket, “They are processed on the mainland within 90 days…” says Power.

Meanwhile, Manne says that his 27 clients have also lodged Refugee and Humanitarian Class XB visa applications under the Australian legal system “as is their entitlement”.

“In the absence of any evidence whatsoever that there is another safe country where our clients can be resettled, and in light of recognition of their refugee status,” says Manne, “my clients have strong and compelling claims to be resettled in Australia promptly.”