THE Australian government’s deal with the Obama administration last November to resettle refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centers is looking increasingly uncertain in the lead-up to Donald Trump’s inauguration as U.S. president.
Just last week, former U.S. presidential advisor Karl Rove told Sky News that unless refugees were settled in the U.S. soon, Trump would not feel bound to honour the agreement outgoing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made with the Turnbull government.
With Trump’s inauguration now just two days away, and looking at the slow progress made on applications and security vetting, the settlement of the 1,000-plus refugees on Manus Island and Nauru may well be the first hurdle the Australian government will face with the Trump administration.
The Australian Financial Review went so far as to call it an “early test of relations” and an “unenviable assignment” for Australian diplomats in Washington.
The Review said it was likely Australia would be asked to do more than foot the bill for the resettlement, or take refugees from Central America, but may be asked for a new commitment on Trump’s priorities such as fighting the Islamic State (IS).
While Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it was a “one off agreement” and “will not be repeated”, Trump has also made it clear he has concerns about taking asylum seekers from countries of national security concern.
In December, Trump told a rally in Cincinnati that refugee programs were “stupidly created by our very stupid politicians” and he would “suspend immigration from regions where it cannot be safely processed”.
Other Republicans have supported Trump’s position. Texas Republican Brian Babin called the deal with Australia “madness”.
As quoted in Sydney Morning Herald, he said:
“I am confident President-elect Trump will do everything in his power to put an immediate stop to this secret Australian-U.S. refugee deal that should have simply never happened in the first place.
“It was made behind doors without any input from Congress. In fact, when Congress asked for details on the agreement and the refugees, the Obama administration refused to share the information.
“This secret deal to import dangerous refugees into the U.S. is exactly what the American people soundly rejected in November with the election of Donald Trump.”
The treatment of refugees at both Australia’s offshore processing camps in Manus Island and Nauru have often been criticised by human rights groups.
In August last year, The Guardian Australia leaked the “Nauru Files“, a compilation of reports claiming of more than 2,000 incidents of sexual abuse, beatings and attempted suicide at Nauru.
Global rights group Amnesty International (AI) later released its own report documenting harrowing tales of how abuse and mental deterioration were driving refugees in Nauru to attempt suicide.
In the 64-page document titled “Island of Despair”, the group flagged the Australian government for flouting international rights conventions, saying conditions at the camp that the refugees are subjected to amount to “torture” under international law.
Due to numerous concerns raised, the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court had in April last year ruled Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island illegal and ordered both governments involved to end the practice.
According to ABC, the judges said in their ruling:
“Both the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments shall forthwith take all steps necessary to cease and prevent the continued unconstitutional and illegal detention of the asylum seekers or transferees at the relocation centre on Manus Island and the continued breach of the asylum seekers or transferees constitutional and human rights.”
In August, authorities announced the closure of the Manus center, although no timeframe was ever given.