President Donald Trump clashed with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull Wednesday night over an agreement made between Australia and the Obama administration to resettle refugees in the United States.
Trump reportedly called it a “dumb deal” and incorrectly referred to the refugees as “illegal immigrants.”
Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
The “dumb deal” involves accepting 1,250 refugees from Australian detention centers, the most famous of which is located on the island of Nauru. Human rights groups have said conditions at these detention centers are grossly inhumane. Yet even sparing a handful of refugees from those conditions is apparently a bridge too far for Trump.
“[M]en, women, and children who sought refuge in Australia and were forcibly transferred to the remote Pacific island nation of Nauru suffer severe abuse, inhumane treatment, and neglect,” Human Rights Watch reported in August. “The Australian government’s failure to address serious abuses appears to be a deliberate policy to deter further asylum seekers from arriving in the country by boat.”
For years, refugees would try to make it to Australia by boat to start a life there. But in 2012, Australia began processing refugees on the Pacific Islands Manus and Nauru. In that time, over 2,000 refugees have been sent there and only 60 have been released, according to Al Jazeera. The conditions are dire.
“Refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru, most of whom have been held there for three years, routinely face neglect by health workers and other service providers who have been hired by the Australian government, as well as frequent unpunished assaults by local Nauruans,” Amnesty International said last year.
The deal between the United States and Australia was signed in November, after months of negotiations, and stipulates that the U.S. will accept refugees whose human rights were ignored by Australia, but only after two rounds of vetting by the Department of Homeland Security, according to the Washington Post.
The deal also says the U.S. would give priority to families and child refugees — but a common theme emanating from the Trump administration is a fear of foreign children. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently warned about the national security threat posed by five-year-old Muslims.
“That’s why we slow it down and make sure that if they are a five year old that maybe they’re with their parents and they don’t pose a threat,” Spicer said, in reply to a question about the detention of a five-year-old Iranian boy in compliance with Trump’s Muslim ban. “To assume that just because of someone’s age or gender or whatever that they don’t pose a threat would be wrong.”
The U.S. embassy in Australia said the administration would honor the agreement, though now there seems to be some confusion after the emergence of the phone call’s details.
Trump allegedly told Turnbull it was “the worst deal ever” and Turnbull was attempting to export the “next Boston bombers.” Turnbull replied with an affirmation of U.S.-Australia relations.
“I can assure you the relationship is very strong,” Turnbull said. “The fact we received the assurance that we did, the fact that it was confirmed, the very extensive engagement we have with the new administration underlines the closeness of the alliance.”