Dealing to Australia’s US Immigration Deal?

There is something very tawdry going on. I’m sure of it.

Something grubby, shabby and very underhand. It isn’t nice. It might even be illegal or at the very least immoral.

It is the immigration deal that Australia has made with the United States to re settle refugees in America. In a sense it has everything and nothing to do with Donald Trump. Let me explain. I will do my best because quite frankly much of the deal is very unclear and crucial information missing from the narrative.

The deal relates to 1,250 refugees held in Australia’s offshore Pacific detention camps on Nauru and Manus Islands. Many of these refugees are from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Iraq. The refugees are stateless, having spent years languishing in these offshore detention camps, that I would call prisons, which the United Nations has repeatedly criticised as cruel and illegal. The refugees are in a no man’s land. They are unable to go home, but cannot come to Australia – even when their right to protection as refugees is confirmed – because they travelled to Australia by boat and that is a no go as far as the Australian Government is concerned. The vast majority of those in Australia’s offshore detention regime are confirmed to have a valid claim to refugee status, meaning they are legally owed Australia’s protection. On Nauru, 983 of the 1,200 refugee status determinations were positive, while 217 were negative. On Manus Island, 78% of 859 the people finally assessed were found to be refugees, while 190 were found not to have a claim for protection. The deal with the United States was also to include hundreds of refugees previously held on Manus or Nauru, or who were in Australia receiving medical care, provided they had been found to be refugees.

Here is where it starts to get very murky. In November the US Obama administration agreed to take an undisclosed number of refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centres. It was both extraordinarily generous and totally inexplicable. Why would the Americans do such a thing? Why indeed. It is a deal that made no sense when Obama was President and even less so now that we have the Donald.

The American resettlement option was accompanied by some strict caveats. It was only to be available for detainees found to be refugees (under the refugee convention). Others who were assessed and found to not have an entitlement to protection would be deemed ineligible. Applicants were to be interviewed twice by US officials before being resettled, in a process that would take between six and 12 months. If a refugee missed out on US resettlement, the existing options of re settlement in Papua New Guinea and Cambodia were still available.

This deal was seen as a significant political win for the Turnbull government. Australia has searched in vain for a sustainable plan for refugees. For more than three years Australia consistently maintained it will never settle asylum seekers on the Australian mainland that come here by boat, a position that has been popular with some voters and is still supported by both of Australia’s main political parties. But the policy has led to regular reports of human rights abuses, and is bitterly condemned by refugee advocates inside and outside of Australia.

At the time of the US agreement, only 24 refugees had resettled in PNG, and a handful in Cambodia. The Manus Island detention centre, was declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Papua and Australia is under international pressure over allegations of the sexual abuse of women and children, assaults of children, rape, widespread mental harm and epidemic rates of self-harm and suicide attempts in the Nauru detention centre.

You can see why Turnbull striking a deal to resettle these people in the United States was a godsend. Which again, leads me back to the question: Why would the United States agree to this deal?

Enter the new American President Donald Trump. There is no one on this planet more likely to torpedo a deal like this than President Trump. One of the very first orders he signed as President was to ban Muslims from seven countries from entering the United States. So Australian Prime Minister Turnbull had good reason to be worried. Bilateral arrangements like this refugee deal, are made by the President of the day. They can just as easily be altered or revoked, at the stroke of a pen, by a new President. But even with the possibility of a Trump Presidency on the horizon, Turnbull seemed relatively untroubled. “ We deal with one administration at the time,” he said. “ There can only be one President at the time.”

So you can just imagine what a priority it might have been for Australia to ensure that this deal was ratified by the new American President, come hell or high water or Donald Trump.

Last Sunday a phone call took place between Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and newly inaugurated President, Donald Trump. It would be fair to say the phone conversation didn’t go well. Trump told Turnbull it was “the worst deal ever” and accused Australia of trying to send the US the “next Boston Bombers” Then he abruptly ended the conversation by hanging up the phone on the Australian Prime Minister. We know all of this courtesy of a leak to a Washington Post journalist who duly reported it. Which brings me to my second intriguing question: Who leaked this information? Was it the White House? Or someone else? Whoever did leak the information has a nice sense of irony in choosing the Washington Post. A newspaper that has no love for the Donald. Watergate anyone? The Trump people denied they leaked the conversation. Why would they? They certainly have nothing to gain from the embarrassing spectacle of an American President treating one of his closest allies with incredible rudeness. Trump later added insult to injury by tweeting; “Do you believe it? The Obama administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

I think it more probable than not that Australia was the source of that Washington Post story. Of course, I can’t prove it but we had everything to gain and nothing to lose from making it all public. President Trump while maintaining the rage says the deal will most likely be honoured subject to a strict vetting of the refugees. I was not surprised at all by Trump’s reaction. What I am surprised about is his change of mind. If this deal goes through it will be because we have done or are about to do a huge favour to the United States. They clearly owe us. And because all of this is shrouded in such secrecy it only makes me more determined, and hopefully you as well, to know what it is.

I smell a rodent.

Good Men And Women Must Stop Doing Nothing

Humanity isn’t a word used much these days. We should be ashamed at that.

It’s a word I love because it has so much meaning. It’s a way of describing all of us. It’s a way of describing the good in all of us. Our commonality. We all live on this planet earth. We may speak a different language, but we are all still human beings. We breathe air, we have DNA, we walk on two legs, we have intelligence and we know right from wrong. We are all in this together whether we like it or not.

Humanity also means compassion, understanding and respect for our fellow human beings. A moral compass that we use, or are supposed to use, to guide us to act in a way that will benefit others for no expectation or benefit in return. We do it because it is the right thing to do.

Humanity is not a word in use in Aleppo, Syria these days. It hasn’t been used in that place in quite some time. All of us, and I do mean all of us,have forgotten, or don’t want to remember, or be reminded of humanity and our obligation to it when it comes to Aleppo, especially when every day we see video of the systematic destruction of a city brick by bloody brick.

Each bomb dropped, each building destroyed has people inside. Yes people, as in men, women and children. Innocent people. We don’t want to know about that either. People whose only crime is to be the unfortunates to live in a city in the cross hairs of a pointless and destructive civil war.

Of course they are not the only ones suffering in Syria. But Aleppo has become the lightning rod, a metaphor for everything that has gone wrong in Syria and in us and everything that has gone wrong in the futile and insincere attempts to stop the violence. We should be ashamed. Everyone on this planet should be ashamed. People are being slaughtered and we do nothing. It reminds me of the words of Edmund Burke, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing. We have become particularly good at doing nothing.

But collective shame doesn’t begin and end with Aleppo. It isn’t enough that we do nothing to help them. We then turn around and try and take away their hope. The people of Syria still have the will to survive in the midst of madness. The ‘lucky’ ones are trying to do something to help themselves when confronted with inhumanity and no one prepared to help them. They are doing what anyone else would do in their terrible situation. They are running away. They are taking to unseaworthy boats and making perilous crossings of the ocean to try and find a place that isn’t being bombed 24/7. It’s hardly surprising yet we, as in the nations of the world, are continually surprised. What is surprising to me is that we do nothing to help them yet we do everything in our power to dissuade them from running away. Dissuade them from boarding boats unfit to go to sea and paying people smugglers for the privilege.

We don’t have that right and they have no choice. We have no right to tell them they can’t board a boat especially if we are not going to help them.

If they stay they die, if they take to the sea they may still die but at least they have a 50/50 chance of survival. Fifty percent is better than nothing.

And to add insult to injury, those that do manage to make that perilous crossing and survive, are rewarded for their efforts by being forced to live as non-citizens, or forced to walk hundreds of kilometres in the hope that someone, somewhere will take pity on them. Worse still if they come to the country that I live in they will be put in prison in some third world Pacific island hell hole with no hope and no prospect of leaving. And our Government congratulates itself on the fact that this final solution has stopped the boats. Humanity isn’t a word used much in Australia either.

I am tired of humanity being hijacked by politicians and other selfish, soulless people. It doesn’t belong to them, it belongs to all of us and it’s time for human beings to reclaim it. If we don’t, we have no future and we certainly don’t have a world worth living in. We have to start being good men and women. We have to stop evil from triumphing. We have to tell politicians, we have to show them they don’t speak for us when they say they won’t help people in need. Because that is what good people do.

We Have Moral Obligations – Do Something

Sometimes I don’t like the world we live in.

I don’t.

It is frequently inhumane, lacks compassion and treats the vulnerable with callous indifference.

Right now, a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions is right under our noses. People as in men, women, children, old and young, fleeing war, oppression and slaughter in countries like Syria and Afghanistan.

The desperation of these refugees is such they will take to anything floating and undertake the perilous journey over water, to reach safety and hopefully a new life. It’s a dance with the devil. You are maybe damned if you do and almost certainly damned if you don’t. Take the risk and die. Stay and definitely die. Would you call that a choice?  It’s being played out nightly on the TV news. Many make it. Some do not. But despite the obvious risk, they come. And keep coming. Desperation makes you crazy.

We see these people arrive in the thousands. A human tidal wave, showing no sign of abating. A human tidal wave, that Europe largely doesn’t want to know, doesn’t know what to do with, or how to stop. It’s not going to stop. If anything it will continue to swell.

But what is really important is our collective response, with few exceptions, to these people who need our help. What has it been? We close our borders, or in the case of Australia, the country I live in, we close our borders, tow them back to their stepping off point or, if that doesn’t work, force to them to go to a glorified prison in some god forsaken rat hole like Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. They used to come in relatively large numbers. Now they don’t come  at all. Our Australian Government takes the credit for this. As if there is credit to be taken. It trumpets the catch cry, we stopped the boats, as if it’s something laudable. I guess it could be if you think cruelty is laudable.

These people committed no crime. Unless you believe asking for help is a crime. And no good pretending we don’t collectively share some culpability for their displacement. They are currently living in a war zone in the countries I already mentioned. And countries like the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Australia are contributing to that war zone by dropping bombs and missiles. Even if you truly believe it is a necessary evil to do this, it doesn’t excuse our responsibility to the people displaced as a result.

Syria is a political and social catastrophe. A catastrophe, in all probability, it may never recover from. I understand that. But we can’t simply shrug our shoulders and pretend we aren’t human beings. If people are in need, we have a moral obligation to help them. I am unable to process how we can simply look away and pretend they don’t exist or pretend it’s too big or pretend that we don’t have that obligation. Sorry but we do. It was one of the things we all signed up for in order to become a member of the human race. Even if you don’t believe what I am saying, then believe this: It’s the right thing to do.

I was looking at a video the other day that made me very sad at what we have become. It showed a homeless boy on the streets of a wealthy and affluent American city begging for help. It was cold and he was dressed in rags and carrying a plastic bag. All he had in the world. He was weak and desperate. It was etched on his face. But people simply kept walking and pretending he didn’t exist. We do indifference so well. In the end, another homeless man gave this young boy some help in the form of donating his own warm jacket. Two desperate individuals but one prepared to sacrifice what little he had to help a fellow human being. It was uplifting but at the same time morally bankrupt.

If you want to abrogate your responsibility, think this isn’t your circus, want to turn a blind eye to the suffering of your fellow humans, fine. But go and live on another planet because you certainly don’t belong on this one.