Australian refugees: Who are they, and what are the terms of the deal?

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About 1,200 Afghani, Iraqi and Iranian refugees—currently housed in terrible conditions on islands near Australia—are supposed to come, over time, to the US, under an agreement signed by Barack Obama and Australia’s prime minister Malcom Turnbull. But Donald Trump doesn’t want them. Yesterday, he called the deal “dumb,” and says he will refuse to accept any of the refugees who come from countries banned by his Jan. 27 executive order.

So, who are these refugees? First of all, they are not “illegal immigrants,” as Trump labeled them during his disastrous phone call with Turnbull.  This Washington Post article helps clarify what’s really going on:

The measure was necessary because of Australia’s draconian immigration policies. Asylum seekers who reach the country by boat are never settled in Australia proper. Instead, they’re sent to Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island for “offshore processing.” Right now, there are about 2,000 people between the two islands, including many children. The vast majority come from Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq. Many were transported to Australia by smugglers across a treacherous sea route hundreds of miles long. (At least 1,200 people have died trying to make the trip, one study found.)

After arrival, the migrants are thoroughly vetted; about 80 percent of those people are legitimate refugees, according to the Australian government. And most have been refugeesat a camp for more than a year, living in an immigration limbo. They are unable to leave their camps but also forbidden from settling for good.

Critics say that this amounts to indefinite and illegal detention; several reports have documented widespread abuse and mistreatment. Last year, a U.N. committee report found multiple cases of “attempted suicide, self-immolation, acts of self-harm and depression” among children who had lived in prolonged “detention-like conditions.”

Australia has a very tough stance on refugees. Despite the inhumane conditions at the island detention facilities, the Australian government has remained “resolutely unwilling to resettle refugees in Australia.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull campaigned in 2013 on a vow to “stop the boats.” His posters bore slogans like, “No Way: You will not make Australia home.” Instead, his government looked to other countries willing to accept the refugees. And they didn’t have much luck until the United States stepped in. America has already begun their own vetting on the refugees that they will resettle. Several told CNN that they had already had one round of interviews with American officials.

So, what was in “the worst deal ever,” anyway?

The Guardian explains:

In November the US agreed to take an undisclosed number of refugees from Australia’s offshore detention regime. The resettlement option was only to be available for detainees who had been found to be refugees (under the refugee convention). Others who were assessed and found not to be entitled to protection would not be deemed eligible. Applicants were to be interviewed twice by US officials before being resettled, in a process that was to take between six and 12 months. If a refugee missed out on US resettlement, the existing options of Papua New Guinea and Cambodia were still available.

As the Telegraph reported:

It has never been clear whether Australia offered anything in return for Washington’s concession. There has been speculation that Australia could take asylum seekers who arrive in the US, or that Canberra may have volunteered to send extra troops to Iraq or to conduct a freedom of navigation exercise patrol near Chinese-claimed territories in the South China Sea.

Others suggested that Australia, which already hosts American troops and has followed the US into each of its wars since Second World War, offered nothing as part of the deal – and that it was this element which infuriated Mr Trump.

Then, during his first ever contact with Turnbull, Trump belligerently accused the Australian prime minister of “seeking to export the next Boston bombers.” And when he essentially hung up on Turnbull, he also disconnected from the island-bound refugees whose conditions, said a United Nations psychiatrist, are “akin to torture.”

No one is certain about what will happen to the refugee deal forged between Obama and Turnbull. It looks as though the Bannon-Trump presidency is on course to channel the hard-line, anti-refugee stance of Australia’s Turnbull. But there’s also talk that Bannon-Trump might honor the deal. Unfortunately, in the Bannon-Trump era of lies and alternative facts, it depends on what the meaning of “honor” is. The Guardian puts it this way:

“ Trump could still honour the deal but simply accept none of the refugees who apply.

 

Gloria Shur Bilchik Gloria Shur Bilchik (652 Posts)

Gloria Shur Bilchik is a freelance writer and community volunteer in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the editor of Occasional Planet. She views the preservation of democratic values and progressive programs as vital to making the US a humane, livable place for her children and grandchildren.