Photo Credit: Australian Government’s Prime Minister’s Office / Facebook
[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Hundreds of refugees held in Australian detention centres on the islands of Nauru and Manus could be resettled in the US under plans announced yesterday by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The Archbishop of Melbourne, Philip Freier, has welcomed the announcement but has called on the government to go further. The conditions on Nauru and Manus have long-been criticised; and earlier this year official files released to the Guardian newspaper revealed the “shocking and saddening” conditions faced by those detained in the off-shore centres.
Now, the plight of the detainees could be about to end as Mr Turnbull announced a resettlement deal with US authorities. The announcement was made in Canberra, where the Operation Sovereign Borders initiative was run from the country’s Maritime Border Command centre in the city. Mr Turnbull said that the operation had “kept Australia’s borders secure, stopped the people smuggling [and] stopped the drownings at sea.”
He said that this had “been the foundation of our ability to reach agreement with the United States to offer resettlement options”. It only applied to those currently on Nauru and Manus and would “not be available to anyone who seeks to come to Australia by people smuggler in the future.”
Responding to the announcement, Archbishop Freier commended the Australian government “for its stringent efforts to find a solution that does not leave people rotting in off-shore detention.”
He said: “Large numbers of Australians have been disturbed by the calculatedly callous treatment of asylum seekers, in which both Labor and Coalition governments have sought to use human misery to ‘send a message’ to people smugglers.
“I recognise that border sovereignty has been an intractable problem and that the government has successfully stopped the boats. This achievement has also removed the need to use offshore detention as a deterrent.
“I urge the government to drop its legislation banning any refugee resettled overseas from ever returning to Australia. The government has already acknowledged it is not a necessary part of the resettlement proposals.”
Other people were less impressed by the announcement. Daniel Webb, the director of legal advocacy for Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre, said that the announcement was “full of holes.”
He said that there was “no timeframe, no numbers, no detail on what the government will do with the hundreds of innocent people who look like they might be left behind. It’s not a plan.
“This ugly chapter in our history only closes when every single man, woman and child suffering at our government’s hand on Nauru and Manus is finally rebuilding their lives in safety. No one can be left behind.”