Trump shouts at Turnbull, hangs up phone: What the US-Australia refugee deal is all about

Late last year, the Obama administration agreed to take asylum seekers who had been trying to make their way to Australia.

world Updated: Feb 03, 2017 11:47 IST
AP, Washington
US-Australia,Dumb deal,Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump speaks with Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.(NYT photo)

President Donald Trump tweeted that a plan for the US to admit some asylum seekers now held near Australia is a “dumb deal.”

What’s the deal about?

Late last year, the Obama administration agreed to take asylum -seekers who had been trying to make their way to Australia.

Read: Trump blasts Australian PM, hangs up on him

The mostly Muslim immigrants are being held in camps on the Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Australia, which has been dealing with an influx of thousands of migrants fleeing conflict and poverty, won’t admit them and is instead paying for them to be held in the improvised island camps.

The Obama administration agreed to review the cases of about 1,300 asylum seekers and also consider the refuge requests of about 370 other people who came to Australia seeking medical treatment, then refused to return to the camps. It is unclear exactly how many refugees the US agreed to ultimately accept.

Human rights groups have criticised Australia for its treatment of asylum seekers who have tried to reach Australia by sea. When the agreement with the US was announced in November, the UN special rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants Francois Crepeau said it was a “good start” to finding a way to close the detention camps.

US lawmakers have criticised the agreement and asked homeland security and state department officials to provide more details before anyone is admitted. In a letter to the agencies, the senate judiciary committee chairman senator Charles Grassley and the house judiciary committee chairman representative Bob Goodlatte said the refugees being considered for relocation were from Iran, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan or stateless.

An executive order signed by Trump on Friday would seem to bar these refugees at least temporarily. It blocks entry to the US for anyone from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen for at least 90 days. The order also suspends the US refugee program for four months.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull insisted on Thursday that the deal was still on, despite Trump’s tweet on Wednesday that it was a “dumb deal” that he would review.

Phil Glendenning, President of refugee council of Australia, speaks at a press conference in Sydney asking the government for all refugees and asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru to be brought to Australia. (AFP photo)

The state department on Thursday said the agreement will stand “out of respect for close ties to our Australian ally and friend.”

White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Thursday said the refugees held by Australia will be subject to “extreme vetting” before they could enter the US. He provided no details about the vetting process.

Questions about the agreement’s fate came after reports of a contentious call between Trump and Turnbull. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Trump angrily dubbed the agreement “the worst deal ever” and accused Turnbull of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers” — a reference to Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, brothers born in Kyrgyzstan, who set off bombs at the 2013 Boston marathon.

First Published: Feb 03, 2017 10:29 IST