27 Jan 2017

Nauru, Manus Island refugees distressed by Trump

10:35 am on 27 January 2017

The distress of refugees detained offshore on Nauru and Manus Island by Australia has deepened with news US President Donald Trump will suspend refugee resettlement.

The Manus Island detention centre.

The Manus Island detention centre. Photo: Behrouz Boochani

Canberra has expressed confidence that a plan for the US to take the refugees will still go through, but refugees and their advocates said the Australian government did not know if Mr Trump will honour the deal.

The US Department of Homeland Security has temporarily halted trips by staff to interview refugees abroad as it prepares for a likely shakeup of refugee policy by President Trump, according to sources.

The decision effectively amounts to a pause in future refugee admissions, given that the interviews are a crucial step in an often years-long process.

The DHS leadership's decision to halt the interview trips was communicated to those involved in the US refugee admission process on Wednesday, one of the sources said.

It means that though President Trump has not yet ordered a temporary halt to the refugee program, future admissions are likely to be delayed.

As Australians celebrated their national day yesterday, the Refugee Action Coalition's Ian Rintoul said the refugees' suffering intensified.

"There is enormous, enormous amount of disquiet and anxiety for those people who have indicated their interest in resettling in the US," he said.

"There is complete uncertainty about whether it is going to go ahead and as the days go by, as the weeks go by, as the months go by that tension can only increase."

Mr Rintoul said the Australian government was in the dark about whether the US will take the refugees.

Manus Island detention centre

Photo: Behrouz Boochani

"I think if they knew that they would say. That's been the government's position the whole way through. They've got no other resettlement arrangement for a couple of thousand people they've dumped in Nauru and Manus Island," he said.

"They are depending on the US deal to provide some outcome from a very difficult political position they've put themselves in. Their backs are against the wall in that respect, so of course the government is going to say they've got every confidence the US deal is going to go ahead but the people who are paying the price are the people who are on Nauru."

After four years of imprisonment, the Kurdish journalist and Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani said the uncertainty was torturous for the refugees.

Behrouz Boochani at the Manus Island detention centre.

Behrouz Boochani at the Manus Island detention centre. Photo: Supplied/ Behrouz Boochani

"The Australian government continues to play political games and to keep holding Nauru and Manus Island refugees in limbo. Under international convention it is our right to know where we will live and when we will leave this island. It is time to stop torturing people by time."

Mr Boochani said refugees on Manus Island did not expect Mr Trump to accept the resettlement deal.

A refugee from Iran, Amir Taghinia, said while he languishes in prison, Australia Day was no cause for celebration.

"Australia's day is actually a day of genocide. So my understanding about this day is not a day to party. This day was the day that the Aboriginal land was occupied. They have taken their childrens away from them. So my understanding about their culture is now I'm not surprised that they have put us in prison."

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