The Trump-Turnbull Meeting and Australia’s “Pacific Solution” for Refugees

 Credit: Reuters. Asylum-seekers at Manus Island detention center, Papua New Guinea, 2014.

Credit: Reuters. Asylum-seekers at Manus Island detention center, Papua New Guinea, 2014.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Washington, D.C. (February 22, 2018) – On the eve of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, Refugees International welcomes the decision of the Trump Administration to resettle refugees transferred by the Australian Government into detention in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Under the current arrangement, the U.S. has reportedly agreed to take up to 1,250 of the refugees. To date, more than 100 have arrived in the United States.

We encourage the Trump administration to expand this important humanitarian resettlement program, as permitted in the agreement between Australia and the United States, so that the nearly 2400 asylum-seekers currently impacted by Australia’s transfer policy could obtain the durable solution of U.S. resettlement.

At the same time, we are deeply disturbed by Australian practices regarding asylum seekers arriving by sea. Under these practices, asylum-seekers have either been interdicted at sea and summarily returned, often to countries of origin, or transferred into detention in Nauru and Papua New Guinea pursuant to Australia’s so-called “Pacific Solution” policy.

As refugee protections erode around the world, the Government of Australia should not become a leader in the international race to the bottom. But recent practices raise serious concerns that this is precisely what is occurring. 

Asylum-seekers approaching Australia by sea are denied proper screening procedures that would ensure against return to countries of origin or other countries that may not guarantee necessary protection.  And in the so-called off-shore processing centers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, asylum-seekers have suffered arbitrary and indefinite detention, risks to their personal security, inadequate healthcare - including the failure to address  trauma and other mental health concerns - and inadequate sanitary facilities. These and other concerns have been identified and documented by a range of credible international observers.

For these reasons, Refugees International strongly encourages the Trump Administration to expand its current resettlement arrangements with Australia – to ensure durable solutions that end the suffering of the affected populations. 

In the absence of such action by the United States government, the government of Australia cannot in good conscience – or consistent with its obligations under international refugee law – continue with this off-shore arrangement, and must itself provide resettlement for those who have suffered so significantly.

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For interviews with RI President Eric Schwartz please contact Hardin Lang, Vice President for Programs and Policy, at (202) 378-8995 or at hardin@refugeesinternational.org.

Refugees International (RI) advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises. We are an independent organization, and do not accept any government or UN funding. For more information, visit www.refugeesinternational.org.

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