Immigration Detention Center Closing Results in U.S. Refugee Deal With Australia

By: Kaitlyn Carr

As part of its immigration policies, Australia holds people in offshore detention centers.[1]  In Nauru and Papua New Guinea, detention centers house hundreds of asylum seekers that Australia has intercepted on the way to its shores.[2]  People in immigration detention are assessed for any risks they may pose to the Australian community.[3]  The Government’s policy of refusing to resettle asylum seekers that attempt to reach its shores by boat is meant to deter people from trying to enter Australia without authority.[4]  Australia considers immigration detention an essential component of strong border control.[5]

 

Although the Australian Government does provide accommodations for the people at the detention centers, the United Nations human rights office has repeatedly expressed concern about alleged violations against migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.[6]  In a recent press briefing, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “We are extremely concerned about the serious allegations of violence, sexual assault, degrading treatment and self-harm contained in more than 1,000 incident reports from offshore processing centres on Nauru, many of which reportedly involved children.”[7]  A few years ago an Iranian detainee was killed during two days of rioting at the Manus Island center.[8]

 

The Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea declared in April 2016 that the Australian detention center on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island was illegal.[9]  More than 800 men are being held on Manus Island for trying to reach Australia by boat.[10]  In its ruling, the five-judge court ordered the governments of Papua New Guinea and Australia to end the detentions “because the asylum seekers had not entered Papua New Guinea of their own accord, they were not guilty of immigration violations, and holding them ignored constitutional protections of personal liberty.”[11]

 

In August 2016, the Australian government announced it would close the detention centers, but it did not have a timeline or plans in place for resettling the refugees.[12]  A U.S. agreement was then reached to resettle an unspecified number of refugees from among more than 1,300 asylum seekers held on Nauru and Manus Island.[13]  Most of Australia’s asylum seekers are Muslims from the Middle East, Africa and Asia, so it is not clear if the U.S. election of Donald Trump will impact the agreement.[14]  President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on a platform that included a ban on Muslim immigration, and now U.S. lawmakers are criticizing the U.S. agreement to accept the refugees.[15]

 

In a November 22 letter to secretary of state John Kerry and secretary of homeland security Jeh Johnson, Iowa senator Chuck Grassley and Virginia congressman Bob Goodlatte raised concerns about their country “accepting refugees from countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism.”[16]  Grassley and Goodlatte, both members of the Republican Party, condemned the Obama administration for not informing legislators of the deal during an official refugee consultation in September.[17] “Your departments negotiated an international agreement regarding refugees without consulting or notifying Congress,” they wrote.[18]  U.S. immigration experts predict Trump will likely tear up the deal.[19]

[1] Human Rights Council Working Group, Universal Periodic Review Nat’l Rep.: Australia, at 19, U.N. Doc A/HRC/WG.6/23/AUS/1 (2015).

[2] Brett Cole, Australia Will Close Detention Center on Manus Island, but Still Won’t Accept Asylum Seekers, N.Y. Times, Aug. 17, 2016.

[3] Human Rights Council Working Group at 19.

[4] Rod McGuirk, UN Expert Welcomes US Deal to Resettle Australia’s Refugees, ABC News, Nov. 17, 2016.

[5] Human Rights Council Working Group at 19.

[6] Australia and Nauru must end offshore detention; investigate claims of abuse – UN rights office, UN News Centre, Aug. 12, 2016.

[7] Ravina Shamdasani, United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Press Briefing Notes on Nauru, Yemen and Democratic Republic of the Congo, Aug. 12, 2016.

[8] Michelle Innis, Australia Failed to Protect Asylum Seekers, Report Says, N.Y. Times, Dec. 11, 2014.

[9] Brett Cole, Australia Will Close Detention Center on Manus Island, but Still Won’t Accept Asylum Seekers.

[10] Austin Ramzy, Papua New Guinea Finds Australian Offshore Detention Center Illegal, N.Y. Times, Apr. 26, 2016.

[11] Id.

[12] Brett Cole, Australia Will Close Detention Center on Manus Island, but Still Won’t Accept Asylum Seekers.

[13] Rod McGuirk, UN Expert Welcomes US Deal to Resettle Australia’s Refugees.

[14] Id.

[15] Helen Davidson, Senior US Republicans criticise ‘secret’ refugee deal with Australia, The Guardian, Nov. 25, 2016.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

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