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Australia’s “Pacific Solution” is a Precursor to an International Humanitarian Disaster

Both the American and Australian public have been dismayed over the latest happening in international politics: the infamous hang-up as newly elected American President Donald Trump nastily and abruptly ended what should have been a customary and conciliatory phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The phone call between the two heads of state ended poorly as President Trump seemed to back out from the previously orchestrated Australian-American refugee settlement that was to see the transfer of 1,250 refugees from detention camps on Nauru and Manus Islands to the US. President Trump called the refugee settlement, organized previously under the Obama administration, a “dumb deal,” but has since back-tracked and discussed allowing the refugees to enter the US, should they be “extremely vetted,” a process which has yet to be detailed by the American State Department.

While the star of this latest conflict in the Australian political sphere happens to be President Trump, the conflict rather has its roots in Australian refugee policy. Australia’s “Pacific Solution”decrees that should refugees approach the country by boat, they are to be taken to an offshore detention center, located on the Nauru and Manus Islands. The refugees held in the detention center cannot return to their native lands nor are they allowed to enter Australia. In 2016 the Nauru detention center was revealed to have been not only mismanaged, but plagued with instances of sexual and child abuse. Refugees have complained of inadequate hygienic facilities, self-harm and suicide are wide-spread in the detention centers. The Turnbull administration has since sought to outsource the refugee issue through placing 1,250 individuals in the United States, without addressing in force Australia’s refugee policy that has been deemed to be both “cruel” and “illegal” but the United Nations. Such out-sourcing of 1,250 refugees seemed to provide the increasingly unpopular Turnbull administration with a solution to the political disaster Nauru had become. Such a solution was in place, until President Trump.

The “Pacific Solution” has clearly turned into a international political disaster, and now in the year 2017 Turnbull seems reluctant to address the policy head on, if only he can succeed in Trump’s cooperation in relocating the agreed 1,250 refugees. Many of these refugees have been detained in Nauru for years after having fled persecution, poverty, and violence in their native lands only to be rejected from Australia’s shores. Turnbull’s disastrous phone-call with President Trump can be seen as the mirror image of Australia’s nativist refugee policies. President Trump has sought to expand his own American brand of immigration policy, and most recently through an executive order banned travelers from seven Muslims majority countries from entering the United States and suspended the US refugee re-settlement program for at least several months. Should Turnbull be unable to convince Trump to receive the agreed 1,250 refugees their fate will serve as a potential harbinger for future refugees fleeing conflict and seeking safety in foreign lands. Unwanted by both their own governments and foreign nations, refugees and forced migrants are left in limbo. If the Turnbull administration is unable to resolve the Nauru and Manus situations quickly, either through out-sourcing, or more unlikely, finally accepting the refugees onto Australian shores, Australia’s “Pacific Solution” policy may become the template for other nations seeking to refuse the entry of foreigners, and is likely to become a final solution for many refugees who will exists as a stateless and unwanted people.

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