Australia’s fragile refugee resettlement deal with the US has brought thousands of people on to city streets , decrying the US president’s immigration ban and demanding an end to Australia’s offshore processing policy of asylum seekers.
The deal, purportedly, is for the US to resettle up to 1250 refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, where refugees have been held for more than three years, and which are the subject of sustained criticism over systemic violence by guards, sexual assaults, including of children, and deaths from murder, suicide and inadequate medical care.
The refugee agreement has spent the week in furious on-again, off-again debate. Trump has spent the week railing against the “dumb deal” and the “worst deal ever”, followed by his officials then quietly rowing back his comments and promising the deal, struck with the Obama administration, would be upheld.
The president’s fraught phone call over the issue with the Australian prime minster, Malcolm Turnbull, briefly dominated the international news agenda.
But the deal does not oblige the US to actually accept a single refugee, only to allow them to “express an interest” in resettlement. All the refugees from the Australian-run camps will be subject to “extreme vetting”, the US president said. Australia has legal responsibility for the refugees after they landed in its territory, but has moved them offshore and refuses to accept them for fear of encouraging more arrivals.
The deal, and Australia’s continued support for offshore processing, has sparked protests across cities, including Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Newcastle and Hobart.
In Sydney on Saturday, protesters marched to the US consulate, chanting “Dump Trump”.
The Adelaide barrister Adam Richards and his 13-year-old son Ned, walked from Adelaide to Canberra – a distance of 1194km – over 39 days to protest against the conditions in offshore detention.
They led a protest march to parliament house in Canberra that demanded the Australian government close the camps, and bring those held there to Australia.
“Our goal is to put increasing pressure on the government to close our offshore detention camps on Manus and Nauru,” Richards said.
“Over 80% of refugees on these islands have been assessed as genuine, despite the government’s new processing strategies which lean towards setting refugees up for failure. Australia is also not meeting its current international obligations.”
In Melbourne on Friday, a peak-hour march brought city traffic to a standstill.
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