A year ago, President Donald Trump told Australia’s prime minister that he didn’t want his refugees, saying they would become terrorists.
That was then, this is now. A steady group of refugees from the Middle East and South Asia previously housed in Australian detention camps have been quietly arriving in the United States over the last several weeks and resettled in American communities.
The arrival of a new group of about 30 refugees just this week, according to the Australia-based Refugee Action Coalition, comes on the cusp of a highly anticipated visit Friday by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. It was Turnbull who Trump blasted last year in what became an infamous phone call in which Trump showed he wasn’t afraid to attack even our staunchest allies in ways most saved for adversaries.
The Trump administration is now keeping a tight lid on the details of the refugees’ arrival, releasing only scant information about their numbers and backgrounds.
But at least 110 largely Afghan, Pakistani and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar have come to the United States — most in the last several weeks — after Trump relented and agreed to carry out the controversial refugee swap arrangement struck by former President Obama in 2016.
“As the person who signed the deal, one of several deals that the president has called ‘the worse deal ever,’ I am very happy that the Trump administration has followed through on allowing a certain number of these refugees to come to the United States,” said Anne Richard, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration in the Obama administration.
In exchange for the United States considering the resettlement of 1,250 refugees from Australia’s offshore camps, Australia agreed to take refugees from the violence-plagued “northern triangle” countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Australia also agreed last year to resettle a group of Cuban refugees that had been held at Guantanamo Bay after a standoff on a lighthouse off the Florida Keys in May 2016.
Others questioned the sincerity of the arrangement.
“It’s a very untoward arrangement between Trump and Australia,” said Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition. “Ultimately, the two countries are involved in a scratch my back arrangement. You deal with our little problematic group of refugees and we’ll deal with yours.”
A State Department official confirmed that 54 refugees from camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea had been resettled in September and that the administration is continuing to interview and process other refugees on a case-by-case basis when their entry is in the national interest, “including when the individual’s entry would enable the United States to act in accordance with preexisting international arrangements and did not pose a threat to the security or welfare of the United States.”
But U.S. authorities would not provide official numbers on the more recent arrivals or details about their home countries.
As the person who signed the deal, one of several deals that the President has called ‘the worse deal ever,’ I am very happy that the Trump administration has followed through on allowing a certain number of these refugees to come to the United States.
Anne Richard who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration in the Obama Administration
In the now infamous phone call, Trump told the Australian prime minister that he’s “going to get killed” politically for accepting them.
“Where do they come from? Are they going to become the Boston bomber in five years? Or two years? Who are these people?” Trump fumed, according to a leaked transcript of the Jan. 28, 2017 call.
More than 3,000 refugees and asylum seekers have been forcibly transferred by Australia to the offshore processing facilities since 2013, according to the United Nations.
“While the relocation of refugees to the United States is an ongoing and welcome process, the knowledge that many remain without any resolution is weighing on everyone,” said Rico Salcedo, UNHCR regional protection officer.
Turnbull told Trump that Australia would have accepted the refugees into the country if not for strict requirements not to allow any who arrived by boat.
Since becoming president, Trump has clamped down on refugees, making it harder for those fleeing persecution to find safe haven in the United States. The day before the call with Turnbull 13 months ago, he signed an executive order temporarily barring the admission of refugees, which sparked legal and court battles.
Refugee admissions resumed later in the year, but under tougher guidelines.
Trump said he’d allow 45,000 refugees into the country in the current fiscal year, about half the 85,000 settled in the final fiscal year of Barack Obama’s administration.