The Australian government’s announcement that asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru and Manus Island could be resettled in the US has been hailed by many as a circuit breaker, long overdue, but there are many important questions that must be answered if it is to proceed.
The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the one-off deal, which will only apply to those currently on the islands and not to any new arrivals, on Sunday morning following a year of negotiations with the Obama administration.
“It is a one-off agreement — it will not be repeated,” he told reporters.
Turnbull would not be drawn on how many refugees the US will take, with the final figure to be determined by US authorities, but said “the most vulnerable” would be prioritised— in particular, families on Nauru. The Federal Government hopes to begin moving people to the US early next year.
While it is undoubtedly welcome news, like most initiatives from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), it also remains somewhat shrouded in mystery.
Currently there are more than 1000 men, women and children on Nauru and Manus Island, as well as hundreds more who have been brought to Australia for medical treatment, some with relatives.
Many have been left traumatised by years in offshore detention after fleeing conflict and persecution in their home countries.
Refugee advocates stress they deserve peace of mind and the Greens have stated there are “gaping holes” in the US resettlement scheme.
Here are the six questions refugee advocates want answered, which Mamamia also relayed to the DIBP. The department’s answers have been taken into consideration and are included below.
1. What about the refugees and asylum seekers already in Australia?
One of the most concerning aspects of the plan is that those who have been brought to Australia for medical treatment — including an estimated 15 women who were victims of sexual assault or raped on Nauru — could be forced to to return to the Pacific islands in order to be eligible for resettlement.
They also risk being stuck there, alongside their attackers, if their claims are rejected by US authorities or the deal collapses.
“It’s really concerning that they would have to go back to Nauru where they’ve been harmed,” refugee advocate Natasha Blucher from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre told Mamamia, adding the announcement had caused “major uncertainty and anxiety” among the group.
“They’re only just starting to get involved in their communities and heal.”