SYDNEY - Protesters have rallied in the Australian city of Melbourne to oppose a deal to send refugees held in offshore migrant camps to the United States. The agreement was struck last November with the Obama administration. Its future is unclear after President Trump called it a “dumb deal.”
Under the agreement, about 1,250 refugees from Australian-sponsored offshore detention centers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru would be resettled in the United States. Most are from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. The government in Canberra has refused to allow their entry under strict border security measures, which prevent asylum seekers who arrive by boat from being resettled in Australia. The agreement with Washington is to be overseen by the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR.
Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered in Melbourne to voice their opposition to the deal. They argue that hundreds of refugees would be left out of the plan, which has no specific time-frame.
Chris Breen from the Refugee Action Collective in Melbourne is urging Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to allow the refugees to resettle in Australia.
“Ultimately these refugees are Australia’s responsibility. They came seeking asylum in Australia, so we are today calling on the Turnbull government to bring those refugees here. We are saying the United States deal is not a solution,” Breen said.
The future of the refugee deal is, however, uncertain. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump tweeted that he would “study this dumb deal.” At the time, The Washington Post reported that in a phone call Trump accused the Australian prime minister of trying to export what he called the "next Boston bombers" to America.
Australia sponsors two offshore processing camps in the South Pacific as part of its policy of trying to stop asylum seekers reaching its territorial waters by boat. Ministers have insisted it is a deterrent and dissuades migrants from risking their lives in hostile seas. Campaigners, though, have described conditions in the camps as “hellish” and want them closed down.