Australian community groups call for action on offshore detention
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Australian community groups call for action on offshore detention

AMIDST a storm of confusion, anger and protests worldwide regarding the freeze of refugee migration and so-called ‘Muslim ban’, U.S. President Donald Trump signaled on Twitter this week that he intended to stop a “dumb deal” with Australia on refugees.

Trump declared his intention to “study” a controversial agreement made under the former Obama administration, which would have seen substantial numbers of asylum seekers and refugees in Australian immigration detention resettled in the United States.

The president erroneously referred to these people as “illegal immigrants.”

The deal, which would also have seen Australia resettle refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, had previously drawn criticism from Republican lawmakers.

Trump’s announcement was, however, contrary to earlier assurances from the White House that the new president would proceed with the policy – also confirmed by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last Sunday.

SEE ALSO: Australia’s Turnbull says Trump will honour refugee swap deal

A White House official subsequently told the ABC the new president was “still considering whether to actually go ahead” with it. Already, U.S. immigration officials have reportedly postponed interviews with asylum seekers on Nauru.

After hearing the news about Trump’s freeze on refugee migration and ‘Muslim ban’, a teenager detained on Nauru attempted to take his own life.

The Refugee Council of Australia called for an end to “this cruel political ping-pong” through a bipartisan commitment to ending offshore processing of refugees in camps on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, where there are still some 2200 men, women and children.

On Friday, spurred by the situation reaching “crisis point” after Trump’s announcement, a broad coalition of civil society groups issued a forceful, open statement calling for “immediate action” on Australia’s use of offshore detention for refugees and people seeking asylum.

As a culmination of the #BringThemHere campaign, the statement from more than 70 prominent community organisations demanded a bipartisan commitment to “immediately evacuate the camps” on Manus Island and Nauru and “bring these people to safety.”

The many signatories – ranging from church groups, trade unions, professional organisations such as Academics for Refugees and Doctors for Refugees, and NGOs like Amnesty International and World Vision –  declared in no uncertain terms that “we owe them protection and safety now.”

Australia’s harsh treatment of asylum seekers has long drawn domestic and international criticism from major human rights bodies such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations. Last year, 2000 pieces of evidence dubbed the ‘Nauru files’ were leaked by the Guardian, detailing sex abuse and torture, including against children. A number of media and civil society reports surfaced from both Manus Island and Nauru of rights violations and assaults by local populations on asylum seekers.

SEE ALSO: Nightmare in Nauru: Australian govt blamed for alleged torture in refugee camp

“When the US deal was announced many of the men, women and children on Nauru and Manus felt hopeful and optimistic for the first time in years. But this continued uncertainty, delay and confusion is seeing those hopes dashed and causing huge pain,” said Daniel Webb of the Human Rights Law Centre.

Save the Children Australia’s CEO Paul Ronalds stated that “these innocent people want what all Australians want – they want hope and a brighter future for their children. It’s time to stop punishing them for risking their lives in that search.”

“The innocent group of people on Manus Island and Nauru must not be left in limbo about their future. Until the U.S. resettlement deal can be guaranteed and finalised, Prime Minister Turnbull should immediately bring them to Australia.”

The CEO of Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) in Melbourne, Kon Karapanagiotidis, announced via Twitter that ASRC had organised protests “across Australia” on Friday and Saturday to demand the Australian government” resettle people from Nauru and Manus Island in Australia.

Senior law lecturer at Monash University, Azadeh Dastyari, wrote in the Brisbane Times that “we do not need the United States to take people we are responsible for.”

“We can and should resettle the Nauruan and Manus refugees ourselves.”