It confirms how Australia’s foreign policy has been hijacked by immigration concerns. One might expect the first call between these two leaders would have focused on more pressing matters of global security but for nearly the entire call, Australia’s Prime Minister is desperately trying to persuade the US president to uphold an agreement to take a small number of refugees from Australia’s offshore processing centers in Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru.
The transcript exposes the hypocrisy of Australia’s refugee policies and Turnbull’s complete disregard for international law. “If they had arrived by airplane and with a tourist visa then they would be here,” Turnbull says. But under the Refugee Convention, which Australia has ratified, countries can’t discriminate against those seeking asylum based on mode of transport. The treaty recognizes that refugees may need to enter a country illegally for protection and should not be punished for that.
Turnbull also falsely refers to those on Manus and Nauru as “economic refugees” when in fact all of those being considered for US resettlement are recognized as refugees for having a well-founded fear of persecution if returned home.
Aside from President Trump’s mind-boggling statement that “I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country,” perhaps the most surprising moment in the call was Turnbull admitting that the US doesn’t even have to accept any refugees, but just go through the vetting: “You can decide to take 1,000 or 100. It is entirely up to you. The obligation is to only go through the process.” This exposes the brutal truth that Australia’s leader does not really care about the refugees’ fate, but just needs to make it look like something is happening.
Meanwhile, about 2,000 men, women, and children remain in limbo in Nauru and Manus Island. Most have been there for four years, facing violence, mistreatment, and neglect in Australia’s offshore processing centers. Right now, refugee men on Manus are protesting plans to close the center and move them to another facility where they feel even less safe.
Both of Australia’s major parties should stop playing politics with refugee lives and let these people settle in Australia; it is the humane, responsible thing to do.
This report prepared by Elaine Pearson for Human Rights Watch.