The US refugee deal grows shakier by the day. Turnbull must find a humane way forward

The US refugee deal grows shakier by the day. Turnbull must find a humane way forward

This article was first published by The Guardian Australia

With US President Donald Trump set to expose further holes in our government’s already uncertain refugee deal, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull must urgently find a humane way forward.

Trump is set to sign executive orders imposing a four month freeze on all refugee resettlement to the US and drastically reducing America’s refugee intake thereafter, slashing it by 60,000 places. Additional restrictions will also apply to people from refugee producing countries such as Syria, Iran and Iraq.

Turnbull and immigration minister Peter Dutton are predictably putting on a brave face and acting like everything is fine, but the writing is well and truly on the wall. While a painfully long and narrow road to the US may possibly still exist for some, no one on Manus or Nauru will be going to the US anytime soon and many now seem unlikely to ever go at all.

The tragedy is that when the US deal was first announced many people stuck on Manus and Nauru began to feel hopeful and optimistic for the first time in years – after three years of limbo, our government was finally acknowledging that it couldn’t just leave them languishing on remote islands forever. Having those hopes dashed will cause absolute despair.

The first time I went to Manus was in the weeks after Iranian refugee Reza Barati was murdered in February 2014. The men I met back then spoke of the incredible tension and fears of further violence inside the centre. They also described the boredom of having nothing to do, spending day after day trapped behind the same fences – the sheer nothingness of it all.

But what caused them the most anguish was the indefinite nature of their situation. Would they be there for a month? A year? Forever? They had no idea if or when or to where they would ever be resettled. They had no idea if or when they would ever see their families again. They were in perpetual limbo, which one of the men described as a “mental torture”.

They were exhausted back then. And that was three years ago.

It is our government’s responsibility to urgently find a humane way forward. Time and time again immigration minister Peter Dutton has nailed his colours to the mast and insisted that the men, women and children on Manus and Nauru will never be brought to Australia. But that position becomes more and more untenable by the day. The government has already conceded that Manus and Nauru are dead ends. The Cambodia deal is a costly and cruel failure. It’s now clear the US deal won’t be enough to ensure safety for all.

The government is out of options.

In addition to finding a way forward for those stuck on Manus and Nauru the Turnbull government must also end the limbo of the 370 people already here after being evacuated for urgent medical treatment.

The group includes women sexually assaulted on Nauru, men violently beaten on Manus and children so traumatised by what they have seen in offshore detention that they have required psychiatric inpatient treatment.

The group also includes more than 40 babies born right here in Australian hospitals – children who have now taken their first steps and spoken their first words in our communities but who remain at risk of sudden deportation to Nauru. While they are temporarily safe from the horrors of offshore detention, these children and their families are being forced to go to sleep every night worried they will one day be returned to harm.

After three and a half years of limbo, enough is enough. The people being warehoused on Manus and Nauru should be evacuated to safety in Australia. Those already here should be allowed to stay and continue rebuilding their lives in our communities.

The lives of the 2000 people on Manus and Nauru and the 370 already here are in Turnbull’s hands, not Trump’s. Whatever the policy challenge, continuing to cause them serious harm isn’t the solution. It’s time for Turnbull to show some leadership and principle and do the decent thing.