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 the then 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 languished in Australia’s offshore detention regimes.
And not forgetting:
- those who had been already been made to return to their country of origin;
- those who had 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 had 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 were magnanimous but it was clear that those left would 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.”
In addition, the Turnbull government is yet to acknowledge a serious flaw in the US resettlement deal beyond the valid doubts due to Donald Trump’s attitude to immigrations. 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.
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.
In May 2018, a Guardian report confirmed that the US immigration ban was directly affecting the resettlement deal with news that every Iranian and Somali applicant thus far had been rejected. It was also reported that rejections have been taking a serious toll on applicants with at least one attempted suicide in response a negative outcome. Devastation is an understandable response when the minister in charge of immigration continues to make statements that deny offshore detainees any chance of a resettlement e.g. the day prior to the Guardian report, Peter Dutton emphasised that refugees on Manus Island not resettled in the United States would remain in Papua New Guinea as it was a “myth” that other countries will be willing to take them. So the Australian government has not only taken away the freedom of so many innocent people but it continues to remove any shred of hope that any might harbour.
With only a few hundred people from Australia’s offshore detention facilities accepted for US resettlement (as of May 2018, 85 refugees have been resettled from Manus and 162 from Nauru) under an initial agreement for 1250, it’s difficult to envisage that that target will ever be reached. So many people, particularly those men on Manus Island from US-banned countries, will be truly abandoned, possibly in a worse position than when they were forced to flee their country of origin – now with all their rights to seek and be granted asylum ignored, persecuted men, women and children are left with nowhere in the world to go. Especially when both the PNG and Nauru governments have consistently maintained those refugees not accepted for resettlement remain the responsibility of Australia:
“It’s Australia’s responsibility to move them out,” the PNG prime minister, Peter O’Neill, said.
The Nauruan president, Baron Waqa, said: “They can’t stay on Nauru forever, we’ve made that clear right from the start.”
Those held on Manus and Nauru are aware of global events – of the US bans on immigration from certain countries or origin, of the impossibility of long-term settlement in PNG/Nauru/Australia and of Australia’s refusal to accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle some refugees. So they have nowhere to go. And they know that. The only certainty is more trauma and more damage to innocent lives whose suffering has already been immeasurable.
In November 2018, it was revealed by the architect of the deal, Anne Richard (the former US assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration) had made the deal under President Barack Obama to resettle refugees on the understanding that in exchange Australia would “do more” to help other refugees. Richard told the Guardian that “the impetus behind the US-Australia deal on our side was to get the people who were refugees off those islands, because my understanding was that conditions were bad.” and “that Australia would make every effort to do more, to take refugees fleeing the triangle of Central America, to take refugees from outside areas it didn’t usually take refugees from, to take more from Africa, for example, where there are large numbers of refugees in the population.”
The article also noted that two years since the resettlement plan was signed, fewer than 500 people from Manus and Nauru are believed to have been accepted for resettlement in the US.
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 and aim to do what will actually help the world’s most vulnerable people instead of harm them further.
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