To adhere to the Turnbull government’s LIFETIME BAN FROM ENTERING AUSTRALIA FOR ANY ASYLUM SEEKER ARRIVING BY BOAT, (that further cemented the policy instigated in 2013 by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that those determined to be refugees who were detained on Manus Island would be resettled in Papua New Guinea and not Australia), a ‘one-off’ deal with the United States to ‘resettle’ refugees from the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres was announced in November 2016.
However as the more detailed information on Manus Island on this site illustrates, the change of President in the White House put the validity of the agreement for the US to take 1,250 refugees into question and sent asylum seekers detained offshore into further turmoil.
The conversation that Donald Trump had with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in January 2017 included some alarming contents …
… that led refugees and their advocates to conclude that the deal was ‘just a game to kill time, to keep the refugees here and make them not protest’. This caused extreme stress for people whose futures have been in doubt for far too long. However, on 20 September 2017, 25 refugees – most who had been held on Manus Island for more than four years – were told they had been accepted for permanent resettlement in the US. A few days later 27 of those held on Nauru were accepted.
52 people. Just over 4% of the 1,250 who languish in Australia’s offshore detention regimes.
And not forgetting:
- those who have been already been made to return to their country of origin;
- those who have been on boats that have been turned back by the Australian Navy/Border Force (when turning back boats has been shown to be both illegal and has led to an increase in deaths)
- those who have been forced to remain in limbo elsewhere because of the cruel threat of a punitive regime in ‘the lucky country’; and
- those in detention on the mainland of Australia.
The detainees on Manus Island who were not selected have been magnanimous but it’s clear that those left to languish will experience more emotional trauma as result. And those who remained also retained their scepticism, particularly in relation to the Australian government. Iranian refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani stated:
“They are playing with us and they are wasting time. After a year, they only take 25 refugees and are using this deal to waste time. We are very worried they will keep us here for five years or even more.”
And only a week after the 52 people accepted for US resettlement left Manus Island and Nauru, a Sri Lankan Tamil man – who had been formally recognised as a refugee and was legally owed protection – became the second person to commit suicide on Manus Island in less than two months. Daniel Webb of the Human Rights Law Centre concluded:
“If our government then wants to prowl around the globe trying to find safe third countries, fine. But after four years of suffering and death, it is cruel and irresponsible to leave innocent people in danger any longer.”
On 15 December 2017, news broke via a spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition (the Australian government would not comment, saying that resettlements were a matter for the US authorities) who said that another approximately 130 people from Nauru and 60 people from Manus Island had been accepted for resettlement in the US. This is a positive step for those 190 people but just under 250 people leaves 1,000 people stranded on Manus Island and Nauru.
Then on 23 January 2018, another 40 – 50 of the men left on Manus were said to have depart for the United States from Port Moresby to build a new life, under the US deal. This leaves over 2000 people, including 150 children, still in offshore processing with no prospect of freedom. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) stated that the number of people who have so far been resettled through the US resettlement deal “is around 4% of the total people in the offshore processing system on Manus Island and Nauru.”
AND, since on 8 December 2017, US Presidential Proclamation 9645 was fully implemented and the Departments of State and Homeland Security were directed to “restrict the entry of nationals of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Somalia, Venezuela, and Yemen in order to protect the security and welfare of the United States”, a significant proportion of the thousands of legitimate refugees remaining on Manus Island and Nauru now do not have the option of even submitting an application to be considered for resettlement in the United States because of their country of origin. With the current US President’s ongoing pushes for more ‘extreme vetting’, it seems unlikely that many more will accepted.
When on 18 February 2018, another 35 people left Nauru for the resettlement in the US, almost all of whom were single Afghan, Pakistani or Rohingya men – with one Sri Lankan family and one Bangladeshi refugee – this seemed to indicate that Proclamation 9645 was in effect. This is tragic for the largest group of refugees on Nauru who come from Iran. So when 29 people left Nauru for the US on 4 March 2018 it was no surprise that the group comprised two Sri Lankan families, one Rohingyan family, one Afghan family and single men from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Only a couple of hundred people from Australia’s offshore detention facilities have been accepted for US resettlement. And since the initial agreement was for 1250, it’s difficult to envisage that that target will ever be reached.
And there is yet another serious flaw in the US resettlement deal yet to be acknowledged by the Turnbull government. As a Senior Researcher at the US Center for Immigration Studies pointed out:
“most of these refugees are not keen on coming to the United States to begin with; Australia was and still is their preferred destination (many have family members already settled there). Also, what prevents these refugees from taking advantage of the American system and going to Australia as American citizens five years from now? Out-migration for naturalized refugees is not uncommon …”
So, the Australian government could still find that it has not only expended time, taxpayers’ money and labour while it put traumatised people through the further stress and upheaval of screening and processing only to have any of these legitimate refugees migrate to Australia from the US in the future in order to be with their families.
If politicians were to consider that THEY might have endure just a fraction of the turbulence and trauma that ANY refugee has had to cope with, it’s hoped that they would make very different policies and agreements.
To indicate to the Australian government that their policies and treatment of vulnerable people who have already been subjected to far too much trauma, please EMAIL EMPATHY now by going to