US embassy says refugee deal stands, but Trump casts new doubt in tweet


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Update

Donald Trump has lashed out at Australia’s refugee deal with the US in an inflammatory tweet.

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Earlier story:

The American embassy in Canberra has been forced to reaffirm that President Donald Trump’s undertaking to honour the refugee deal stands, after new doubt arose following an explosive story in the Washington Post.

Malcolm Turnbull refused to be drawn on a Washington Post report that Trump “blasted” him over the refugee deal in their weekend conversation, which the president told him was his worst call of the day.

Turnbull’s silence was taken as an effective broad confirmation of the Washingon Post story.

“‘This is the worst deal ever’, Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honour its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention centre,” the Washington Post reported.

“Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admissions of refugees, complained that he was ‘going to get killed’ politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the ‘next Boston bombers’,” the story said.

“At one point Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day – including Russian President Vladimir Putin – and that, ‘This was the worst call by far’.”

The report said Trump had abruptly ended the call after 25 minutes when it had been expected to go for an hour.

It said Trump had told Turnbull it was his “intention” to honour the agreement. Turnbull told Trump that to honour it the US wouldn’t have to accept all the refugees, but only to allow each to go through the normal vetting procedures.

“At that, Trump vowed to subject each refugee to ‘extreme vetting’,” the Washington Post said, citing a senior US official who spoke to the paper.

One of the article’s two authors, Philip Rucker, said the sources for the story were “US officials who have been briefed on the specific details of the conversation”. Rucker is the White House bureau chief of the Washington Post. The other author, Greg Miller, covers the intelligence beat for the paper.

On Monday Turnbull described the conversation as “constructive”.

Peppered with questions at his Thursday news conference in Melbourne called to talk about energy, Turnbull repeatedly refused to be drawn. “I’m not going to comment on these reports of a conversation,” he said.

He did add that: “Australians know me very well. I always stand up for Australia in every forum.”

He repeated that he had received Trump’s assurance that the deal, negotiated with the Obama administration, would be honoured.

A US embassy spokesperson later said: “President Trump’s decision to honour the refugee agreement has not changed and [White House] spokesman Spicer’s comments [confirming this] stand. This was just reconfirmed to the State Department from the [White House] and on to this embassy at 13:15 Canberra time.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Turnbull should “talk straight to the Australian people” about what was going on. “We don’t want to find out our news from the Washington Post. We should hear it first from our prime minister.”

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What has Turnbull agreed to do for Trump?


Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

Let’s hope it’s worth it. Malcolm Turnbull has sacrificed whatever remaining credibility he may still have had as a small-l liberal in a desperate effort to save his tawdry asylum-seeker deal with the US government.

Those hoping for great things from Turnbull will be disappointed but unsurprised, perhaps. What looked like a brilliant political ploy to resolve the running sore of offshore detention has now come back to bite him.

It’s hard to summon much sympathy for his plight. The reality, however, is that it could – and still may – have been so much worse. If the unpredictable xenophobe who currently runs the US and much of the rest of the world shows any consistency, there is no way the asylum seekers on Naru and Manus Island ought to be allowed into the land of the free. After all, most of them are from the countries that have been hit by Trump’s blanket ban on travel from several Muslim-majority countries.

The question is what Turnbull had to say or even promise in his 25-minute phone call with US President Donald Trump to persuade him to honour an agreement forged with his predecessor.

Given that Barack Obama was routinely dismissed as being weak on terrorism, border protection and unambiguously naming supposed threats to American security, getting Trump to agree is no small achievement – if he actually follows through on it. At the very least the would-be asylum seekers will be subjected to “extreme vetting”, which many may not pass.

One assumes that Turnbull must have pointed out the immense political damage that reneging on this deal would do to him personally and to perceptions of the alliance relationship with the US more generally. For the first time in recent history there is a serious debate about Australia’s alliance with the US, and a repudiation of the deal would have been a political nightmare for Turnbull.

It would have been extremely difficult for him to mount a continuing defence of a relationship that is regarded in such a cavalier, instrumental and seemingly expendable fashion by the US.

Trump’s “transactional” approach to allies is entirely dependent on what benefit they bring to the US, not the stability of the international system, much less the wider collective good. It is not even clear whether Trump or many of his key advisers would actually recognise the idea of a collective interest at the international level as a meaningful concept.

The question, therefore, is what Turnbull had to offer as his part of a deal between two famously successful businessmen.

Not criticising the Trump regime would be a given in such circumstances, and Turnbull is dutifully fulfilling his part of the bargain, tacit or otherwise. Giving a running commentary on the domestic policies of other governments is not part of his job, apparently – something the likes of Kim Jong-un and Rodrigo Duterte will be delighted to hear, no doubt.

More immediately, has Turnbull given an explicit or in-principle commitment to support the Trump administration in whatever actions it may decide to take in the “war on terror”, or – more consequentially for Australia – “standing up to Chinese aggression”, as key Trump advisor Peter Navarro might put it?

The stakes here could hardly be higher, especially for Australia. It is not simply because Australia is bound to be adversely affected by any deterioration in the bilateral ties between our principle strategic and economic partners, but because there is the very real possibility that the relationship could descend into actual conflict.

Despite the fact that Australia could make absolutely no real difference to the outcome of such a conflict, there is every chance that it could get sucked into it as a compliant, ever-reliable and obliging American ally. Australia’s propensity to do America’s bidding is high at the best of times.

The worry is that Turnbull has, as the Americans say, doubled-down on our implicit strategic obligations with a renewed commitment to act – whatever policy the Trump regime embarks on. It is the very least Trump would expect in return.

The asylum-seeker problem is nightmarishly complex and offers no easy solutions. While it is possible to have some sympathy for a problem that wasn’t entirely of the Turnbull government’s making, it is difficult not to see the “American solution” as yet another illustration of the dangers of strategic dependence. It reeked of dubious political expediency under Obama; it is fraught with dangerous uncertainty under the Trump regime.

The growing band of critics of the alliance will feel vindicated and emboldened. If the relationship with the US causes Australia to become embroiled in yet another questionable and unnecessary war on behalf of our supposed protector, it can only be a question of time before wider public confidence in the relationship is eroded, too. That really would be a problem for the Turnbull government.


This piece was originally published on John Menadue’s blog, Pearls and Irritations, and is republished with permission.

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull news conference an exercise in avoidance and obfuscation


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

There were several takeouts from Malcolm Turnbull’s rather odd Monday news conference, which followed his Sunday telephone conversation with Donald Trump.

First, Australians are still not to be given any detail about the agreement – forged under the Obama administration and now confirmed by Trump – that the US will take refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.

Second, Turnbull appears to want at all costs to avoid criticising the Trump crackdown on the entry of nationals from the seven nominated countries. This is despite widespread international criticism of the bar. Presumably Turnbull is substantially driven by fears that forthrightness might jeopardise the refugee deal.

Third, Turnbull could not or would not give an indication of what the suspension might mean for Australian dual citizens from these countries.

The press conference, held jointly with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, saw Turnbull opening with very similar lines to those put out about the phone call by the government on Sunday on an unattributable basis. They had a “yesterday’s story” feel about them.

Turnbull looked as though he was on the podium reluctantly – his head was often down, he seemed dejected.

His refusal to provide any further information in relation to the refugees the US is supposed to be taking off our hands is cynical and unacceptable. Turnbull has won favourable headlines in the wake of having Trump reconfirm the deal. But as we don’t know the fine print – for starters, the rough number of people likely to be accepted, and when they could start to leave – we can’t judge how much praise Turnbull deserves for either the deal or the confirmation.

This is media manipulation at its worst. There is no legitimate justification for that secrecy; Turnbull’s suggestion that it’s all a matter for the US sounds a fob off.

When Turnbull was pressed to express an opinion about aspects of the Trump executive order, he simply slid around the issue.

It wasn’t his job to run commentary on the domestic policies of other countries, he said. Australia’s border arrangements were the envy of the world. “If others wish to emulate what we’re doing, they’re welcome to do so.” Is he equating Trump’s measures to Australia’s? But then he added “Our rules, our laws, our values are very well known,” including “our commitment to multiculturalism, our commitment to a nondiscriminatory immigration program. … So that’s where we stand.”

As for the urgent matter of how Australian dual citizens might be affected by the executive order, Turnbull was unenlightening.

“If those issues arise in respect of Australian citizens we will, and we are, taking up that issue with the Administration. Can I just say to you, we have a very close relationship with the United States, and when we want to engage in discussions of this kind, we do so privately and frankly.”

Yet Britain has already set out the position of its dual citizens.

A statement dated January 29 from the British Foreign Office said: “Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has today held conversations with the US government and as a result we can clarify that:

“The presidential executive order only applies to individuals travelling from one of the seven named countries.

“If you are travelling to the US from anywhere other than one of those countries (for instance, the UK) the executive order does not apply to you and you will experience no extra checks regardless of your nationality or your place of birth.

“If you are a UK national who happens to be travelling from one of those countries to the US, then the order does not apply to you – even if you were born in one of those countries.

“If you are a dual citizen of one of those countries travelling to the US from OUTSIDE those countries then the order does not apply to you.

“The only dual nationals who might have extra checks are those coming from one of the seven countries themselves – for example a UK-Libya dual national coming from Libya to the US.

“The US has reaffirmed its strong commitment to the expeditious processing of all travellers from the United Kingdom.”

It was left to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to say later: “I have directed our officials in Washington DC to work with US officials to ensure any preferential treatment extended to any other country in relation to travel and entry to the United States is extended to Australia”.

The work should have already been done and Australia should have had a statement out when the UK did.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Offshore detention: Australians have a right to know what is done in their name


Johan Lidberg, Monash University

How did one of the world’s most-successful multicultural countries made up of refugees and immigrants end up harming children who came to us seeking protection and help? One of the answers to this question is secrecy.

Successive Australian governments, both Labor and Coalition, have dehumanised refugees and kept Australians in the dark about what really goes on in the offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

The cornerstone of the strategy is to limit public access to information. The policy started by the Rudd Labor government in 2013 has been put into overdrive by the Abbott and Turnbull Coalition governments.

There are three pillars to the secrecy strategy:

  • outsourcing the centres to other sovereign nations;

  • outsourcing the centres’ operations to private contractors; and

  • imposing a gag on current and former detention staff through the Border Force Act.

Outsourcing detention

Australian journalists have found it very difficult, bordering on practically impossible, to obtain visas to visit Nauru. Applying for a media visa for Nauru comes with an A$8,000 fee – which is non-refundable even if the application is rejected.

The only journalists to be granted visas in the last two years filed stories that did not properly investigate or challenge the Nauruan and Australian governments’ versions of the situation for refugees.

This means the two governments directly and indirectly control who is allowed onto the island to tell the refugees’ stories of how they are treated. This leads to speculation that serves no-one – not the refugees nor the Australian government nor the public.

The second issue with outsourcing refugee processing to another country is that neither Nauru nor Papua New Guinea has Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. This means an important journalistic tool is missing when it comes to seeking information.

This, combined with the poor FOI history of Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection (and its predecessor), which have repeatedly blocked and delayed requests, makes obtaining raw and unspun information about offshore refugee processing a time-consuming and frustrating task.

Outsourcing to private contractors

Wilson Security is contracted to provide security in the offshore centres.

The 2010 amendments to the federal FOI Act significantly strengthened the requirement on government agencies to obtain information from a private contractor when asked to do so.

However, contracting out adds another layer of complexity to using FOI effectively. The practical consequences are longer processing times, delays and the increased possibility of the contractor claiming the information can’t be released due to commercial-in-confidence issues.

The Border Force Act disclosure offence

In July 2015, the Australian Border Force Act came into force. Its controversial disclosure offence section extended the questionable Australian tradition of limiting public servants’ right to public speech and participation in public debate.

The section effectively stops current and former staff, including those from volunteer organisations such as Save the Children, speaking out about conditions in refugee detention centres.

It is nigh-on impossible to see how this gag section can be in the public interest. But it is easy to see how it is in the government’s political interest.

What are the consequences?

The consequence of the fortress of secrecy built on these three pillars is that Australians don’t know what is being done in their name on Nauru and Manus Island.

It also means the refugees are dehumanised. Suffering children and families become numbers instead of human beings.

Every one of the nearly 1,300 refugees currently on Nauru and Manus has heartbreaking and crucial stories to tell. If Australians were allowed to hear and see those stories, the centres would have been closed a long time ago.

If offshore detention is to continue, the Australian government should:

  • stop outsourcing to private contractors. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection should run the centres to allow for proper accountability;

  • be completely transparent about the centres’ operations. Redact personal information, but publish as much as possible, including incident reports;

  • facilitate access to the centres for journalists and members of the public; and

  • scrap the gag section on detention centre staff, current and former, in the Border Force Act.

We don’t need a Senate inquiry or royal commission to figure out what needs to be done. More than enough evidence is available thanks to the Nauru files, former detention centre staff sharing their experiences, and the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report on children in immigration detention. The government must do the decent and right thing by the refugees and the Australian public.

The Conversation

Johan Lidberg, Senior Lecturer, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Resettling refugees in Australia would not resume the people-smuggling trade


Alex Reilly

In normal circumstances, deaths of asylum seekers, sexual assaults on adults and children, and widespread severe mental illness – including self-harm – attributable to the length and conditions of offshore detention would demand a reconsideration of the policies that allowed these events to occur.

And yet, the Australian government and the Labor opposition maintain an unwavering, untested, bipartisan assertion: no-one will be resettled in Australia, as that will encourage people smugglers.

By extension, Australia will not accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 refugees, as that will provide an equivalent incentive to the people-smuggling trade.

The historical evidence suggests the government’s fears are unfounded. People smuggling will not revive simply because refugees are resettled in Australia. There are good reasons to believe refugees currently stuck in offshore detention on Nauru and Manus Island can be relocated to Australia and New Zealand without this leading to a revival of boat traffic.

A short history

Offshore processing and turning back boats on the high seas were introduced in 2001 and again in 2013 in response to a growing number of boat arrivals.

Between 1999 and October 2001, more than 10,000 asylum seekers arrived on Christmas Island by boat. Between June 2011 and September 2013, 40,000 people arrived. But when offshore processing and turnback policies were introduced, the boats stopped arriving in both periods within months.

But what happened to the asylum seekers detained offshore during the Howard government years?

From 2001 to 2008, of the 1,153 refugees and asylum seekers resettled from Nauru and Manus Island, 705 went to Australia, 401 to New Zealand and 47 to other Western countries. Resettlement of all but 82 occurred under the Howard government, with most occurring from 2002 to 2004. A further 483 people were found not to be refugees and returned to their countries of origin.

The resettlements occurred without fanfare, while maintaining the official policy of offshore detention and processing, and boat turnbacks. From 2002 to 2007, 18 boats arrived with 288 asylum seekers. In addition, one boat was turned back with 14 passengers.

In 2008, after the Rudd government dismantled the offshore processing and turnback policies, seven boats arrived with 161 asylum seekers. This number spiked dramatically from that time.

This analysis suggests the threat of offshore detention and processing and boat turnbacks is a clear deterrent to prevent people coming to Australia by boat. Importantly, the deterrent effect does not rely on a blanket ban on resettlement of refugees from Nauru and Manus Island to Australia and New Zealand.

No long-term resettlement options

Accept for the moment that offshore processing and boat turnbacks are necessary to deter asylum seekers from travelling by boat to Australia.

Accept that these policies stem an uncontrollable flow of humanitarian migration through Indonesia to Australia, prevent people drowning at sea and enable Australia to resettle more refugees through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ resettlement program.

The policy issue in 2001 and 2013 was the uncontrollable arrival of boats. But the issue now is where and when to resettle refugees and asylum seekers who have been sent to Manus Island and Nauru since the reintroduction of offshore processing. On this issue, there is no plan.

The government has made some meagre efforts to organise resettlement in Cambodia. It claims refugees are also free to resettle in Papua New Guinea. But nobody believes these are viable long-term solutions.

No case for the hard line

If this analysis of the incentives proves to be wrong, and it turns out that resettling refugees from Nauru and Manus Island in Australia and New Zealand does increase the number of asylum-seeker boats attempting to reach Australia, we know from the experiences of 2001 and 2013 that the combination of offshore detention and boat turnbacks is an extremely effective deterrent – one that can swiftly be reinstated.

In July 2013, the month Kevin Rudd announced no asylum seeker arriving by boat would ever be resettled in Australia, 4,338 people arrived by boat in Australia. After Rudd announced the new policy, the number dropped to 1,650 in August and 861 in September. None of these asylum seekers ended up in Australia, instead being transferred to Nauru or Manus Island.

In October 2013, when the new Coalition government added a turnback policy to offshore processing and resettlement, 346 people were intercepted and transferred to Nauru or Manus Island. This dropped to 222 in November, then rose to 369 in December. And then, in the 31 months from January 2014 to the present, there has been just one boat with 158 passengers transferred to Nauru.

In addition, from January 2014 to July 2015, 20 boats were intercepted and turned back to Indonesia or other countries in the region, carrying a total of 633 passengers.

At any time offshore detention and processing have been in place, the number of boat arrivals has been very small. We can be confident that, if necessary, a vigorous reinstatement of regional processing and the turnback policy would once again “stop the boats”.

But at this time, in light of the ongoing and intensifying humanitarian crisis on Nauru and Manus Island, there is no case for maintaining the inflexible bipartisan line on resettlement.

The Conversation

Alex Reilly, Deputy Dean and Director of the Public Law and Policy Research Unit, Adelaide Law School

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Germany: Persecution News Update


The links below are to articles reporting on persecution news from Germany.

For more visit:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/may/11/two-thirds-of-christian-refugees-in-germany-persec/
http://www.breitbart.com/london/2016/05/10/40000-christians-harassed-muslims/