On Wednesday, the president took to Twitter to share his take on his geopolitical spat with one of the United States' closest allies. Donald Trump slammed a refugee deal with Australia via his Twitter account. The anger stemmed from a Saturday phone exchange, according to the Washington Post, during which Trump talked with Malcom Turnbull, the Australian prime minister. During the talk, the world leaders reportedly discussed the U.S. and Australia refugee swap, an asylum deal signed between Obama and Turnbull in November (just days after Trump was elected).
The deal itself obliges the United States to resettle asylum-seeking refugees currently held on the Nauru and Manus Islands of Papua New Guinea. A Thursday report from Politico estimated that, based on the range of varying reports, the number of refugees held on the islands falls somewhere between 1,600 to 3,000. Regardless of both the fact that Obama already made the one-off asylum deal with Turnbull, and the fact that these are thousands of human beings left waiting on these islands with a lurching question mark about their future, Trump made his distaste for the deal extremely clearly. The president took to Twitter on Wednesday night, writing, "Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!"
Differences of opinion aside, there are some glaring issues with the tweet itself. Technically, asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants, and technically, Australia has refused to house the refugees, which is why they are in Papua New Guinea in the first place. The content of Trump's tweet has significant accuracy concerns.
Unsurprisingly, the streams of Twitter have been pouring with apologies to Australia and its people following Trump's tweet.
Certainly it makes sense to apologize for straining the relation with Australia; after all, Australia has been a U.S. ally for decades, so staying on good terms is a consistent and beneficial move.
But when it comes to the actual issue of refugee resettlement, shouldn't we be apologizing to the people seeking asylum, rather than the other country that refuses to house them?
Following the news of the conversation between Trump and Turnbull, an Iranian asylum seeker on Nauru (whose identity remains concealed), expressed frustration at the situation to CNN, saying:
We are not toys to play with. People have already been waiting for four years. This process should be really fast we can't take this anymore and if U.S. doesn't want to take refugees they should just cancel it so other countries could help. It's really stressful time.
I'm in full agreement with the general consensus that we shouldn't break ties with Australia as an ally. However, when it comes to approaching the resettlement deal itself, I would hope we could shift our gaze away from the people of Australia and back toward the refugees themselves.
In August, an Iranian asylum seeker on Nauru, who preferred to stay anonymous, shared some of her experiences in a report from the Los Angeles Times. “I saw a lot of things and I realized there is not justice here,” she said, “Some of the underage drank washing powder and some have lots of pills and some of them cut their hands. One of the boys was 5 years old.”
It's alarming for us to shift our gaze to Australia the country, and not the people trapped on an island, given the fact that Australia has the ban on boat-borne refugees that kept asylum seekers on the islands in the first place. Perhaps, it would be more sensitive and humane to apologize to the refugees themselves, instead of the other country refusing to help them.