Trump called it a “dumb deal” which has the Left’s panties twisted. But was it?
The Obama administration’s agreement to take more than 1,000 refugees off the hands of the Australian government drew little notice when it was announced last November after months of quiet negotiations and a grueling election.
At the time, Donald Trump’s unexpected presidential victory overshadowed news of the deal — and then-Secretary of State John Kerry simply said the United States had “agreed to consider referrals” from the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.
But as part of the unusual arrangement, the US said it would accept the roughly 1,250 refugees Australia has been holding in offshore detention centers on the impoverished nation of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
The deal sprang to the fore late Wednesday when details of President Trump’s contentious phone conversation with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull emerged.
Bill Frelick, director of Human Rights Watch’s refugee program, said the agreement was a “one-off humanitarian gesture” meant to help an ally that has serious issues with asylum seekers.
“My preference would have been that Australia do the right thing and take these people,” he said.
Many of the refugees hail from Iraq and Iran, two of the countries on Trump’s travel-ban list.
Two months before the deal was struck, Turnbull agreed at a summit in New York to accept Central American refugees who had escaped violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and were being held in US-funded facilities in Costa Rica.
Many of the deal’s details still remain unclear — much to the chagrin of some members of Congress.
While Australia accepted 13,756 refugees between 2014 and 2015, the country has cracked down on smugglers who illegally ferry asylum seekers to the nation by boat.
Refugees who arrive by sea have been banned from Australia, and are instead sent to the offshore centers.
Australia has been sharply criticized for its detention centers, which human rights groups have decried as “prison-like.” Some refugees have been held in the centers for years as they wait to be resettled.
Damning reports that were leaked to the Guardian last year revealed instances of sexual abuse, assaults and child abuse on the tiny island of Nauru.
Some foreign policy establishments defended the arrangement between the US and Australia.
“Whether or not it is a ‘good deal,’ it may allow both parties [to] humanely resettle some refugees without necessarily incentivizing a larger wave of economic migrants in their wake,” Chris Griffin, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, told The Post.
Frelick said if Trump refuses to honor the deal, Australia may have to change its policy about refugees who arrive by boat.
“My hope is that Australia gives up on trying to shop people around and just takes them,” he said.
So Australia doesn’t want them, so we’re supposed to take them?