By Terence Mills
According to the UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi Australia had failed to honour a “clear understanding” that vulnerable refugees held offshore with family in Australia could be reunited with them and resettled in Australia.
The UNHCR have been involved in facilitating the resettlement of refugees from Manus and Nauru to the USA as part of the deal agreed by Malcolm Turnbull with the Obama administration. A deal that Trump has summarised as being dumb.
Now, it seems that the whole deal may be in jeopardy because of this childish insistence by Dutton, in particular, that none of the detainees will ever be settled in Australia – or for that matter New Zealand. It just seems that Peter Dutton has a vested interest in keeping these people in detention for base political reasons: he seems committed to blocking any sensible resolution to this problem.
What is clear is that somebody on the Australian side involved in the numerous meetings and negotiations gave an undertaking to the UNHCR that encouraged them to offer assistance in the resettlement program. What the UNHCR are probably now wishing is that they had got this undertaking in writing: they probably thought that they were dealing with honourable people and that our word could be trusted. However, as most Australians would have told them, if it’s an agreement with Peter Dutton, always get it in writing and if you shake hands on it, always count your fingers afterwards. It amazes me that meetings at this level are not Minuted, how do they ever agree on what was agreed?
Dutton insists that there was never any such understanding with the UNHCR and if it’s not in writing it has never happened: now, I wonder where he got that line from?
In the meantime the coalition are gearing up to convince the Australian electorate that only they can be trusted on border security and that a change in government (to Labor) would signal to people smugglers that government policy has been relaxed. This cynical tactic by the coalition acts at two levels. It tells the Australian voter that you can’t trust Labor on border security and it tells people smugglers in Indonesia that there will be a change in policy with a change of government. In that sense it cynically acts against the national interest.
Right on cue Air Vice-Marshal and Operation Sovereign Borders Commander Stephen Osborne has today warned a change in government could spark a new wave of asylum seekers to Australia. His assessment is that a change in minister or government could be a risk to border security. Obviously the Air Vice-Marshall is no master of subtlety but he does know on which side his bread is buttered but he seems to be implying that his border security operations are far from secure.
The tragedy for the wretched asylum seekers held on these islands, now for four years – a people smuggler would attract a lesser sentence on conviction – is that once again they are to be used as political pawns as the coalition gears up for the next election on border security.
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