The "dumb" Australia refugee deal may be on the rocks yet again

Back in May I had resigned myself to the idea that we were really going through with the Australian refugee trade deal. (The one which the President correctly identified as being “dumb” initially.) We had begun our “extreme vetting” of the refugees on the two Australian islands and were expecting the slow trickle of new arrivals to begin showing up in the lower 48 at some point this year. But now, with little or no warning, the vetting teams have packed up their bags and left, leaving the Australians to wonder if the deal was really going to go through after all. (Reuters)

U.S. officials interviewing refugees held in an Australian-run offshore detention center left the facility abruptly, three detainees told Reuters on Saturday, throwing further doubt over a plan to resettle many of the detainees in America.

U.S. officials halted screening interviews and departed the Pacific island of Nauru on Friday, two weeks short of their scheduled timetable and a day after Washington said the United States had reached its annual refugee intake cap.

“U.S. (officials) were scheduled to be on Nauru until July 26 but they left on Friday,” one refugee told Reuters, requesting anonymity as he did not want to jeopardize his application for U.S. resettlement.

There’s definitely an element of “nothing to see here” from one side of the equation. If the United States has, in fact, reached its limit of 500 refugees for the rest of this fiscal year then perhaps one could argue that pulling up stakes until October makes sense. But does it? As I previously discussed, this process could take a very, very long time. There’s very little background material available on a lot of these refugees – particularly the ones from Syria and Afghanistan – so the vetting process is even more difficult than usual. If we’re going to just begin opening up the door again on October 1st, wouldn’t we continue the vetting work from now until then just to begin knocking down the backlog? In that regard, it’s understandable how the Australians might be thinking this is a sign that we’re getting ready to bail out.

That brings me back to the question I posed back in April. Are we really stuck with this deal? In terms of good international relations you can understand why the President might be willing to make good on Barack Obama’s promise. It’s not as if our list of allies is growing thicker these days, so he didn’t want to tick off Malcolm Turnbull too much. (The Prime Minister has made a very big deal out of the deal at home and if it falls through he takes a considerable black eye in the press there.) But by the same token, it’s really rather one sided, isn’t it?

Just pondering this a bit more, Australia got the vastly better end of the bargain. Turnbull was almost Trump-like in his policy of declaring that any boat refugees who attempted to enter his nation would “never” be settled there and would have to be sent away. And those refugees are largely coming from terror hot spots. So America has to take them in and absorb the risk? In exchange, Turnbull had to agree to some refugees from South America. There’s certainly still some risk involved, but it’s hardly on the same scale.

The media will have a field day beating up on President Trump if he walks away from or significantly modifies the Australia deal at this point, but what else is new? It’s not as if they’d be interrupted the bed of roses they prepare for him on a weekly basis otherwise. And if we can’t make this work while keeping to our own internal commitments to national security, why not go back to the table and let Australia know we need to alter the terms? It’s at least worth considering.

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