US President Donald Trump has told Malcolm Turnbull he will honour the deal the Australian government did with the Obama administration to take refugees who are being held offshore.
But although government sources indicated the assurance had been given in Sunday’s 25-minute telephone conversation between the two leaders, no further details were being provided about what was said on the matter – for example whether there had been any mention about timing.
The assurance comes in the wake of Trump’s draconian crackdown on the intake of refugees as well as entrants to the US from several predominantly Muslim countries. Under the executive order, admission of all refugees has been suspended for 120 days and there is an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees. There is also a bar for 90 days on the entry of nationals from seven countries – Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen.
The ban on entry from the designated countries has caused chaos in the US. People with valid visas have been detained at airports, and a federal judge has ordered a stay on deportations.
The Australian government has updated its travel advice for Australians about the implications of the bar, which hits those with dual citizenship.
Government sources said the long-standing strength of the relationship between the two counties was recognised in the Trump-Turnbull conversation, and the leaders committed to making it even stronger.
The battle against Islamic State was canvassed, with a mutual commitment for the two countries to continue to work together to improve global stability, including in the Asia-Pacific region.
On border security, the leaders acknowledged a common interest in preventing irregular and illegal migration.
The brief White House readout of the conversation did not mention the guarantee about the refugee deal.
Turnbull had earlier been publicly very confident it would go ahead, but the government was anxious to get a formal assurance from Trump.
Before his conversation with Trump, Turnbull pointed to a provision in Trump’s executive order that he said reflected “the ability to deal with existing arrangements such as the one that we have”. This provision allows the admission of individual refugees on a case-by-case basis in certain circumstances including “when admitting the person would enable the US to conform its conduct to a pre-existing international agreement”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said after reports of the assurance: “I absolutely think the deal should go ahead. I’m pleased if the Americans honour their side of the bargain. So that’s good news as far as I’m concerned.”
American officials visited Nauru before Christmas and are due back next month. The emphasis is on resettling families – all of whom are on Nauru. The single men are on Manus Island.
The latest Australian travel advice says that Australians who are dual citizens of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria are no longer eligible to apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) to enter the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Any of these Australians who had previously been issued an ESTA were likely to have it revoked, it said.
Australians who had travelled to the seven named countries since March 1, 2011, would also no longer be eligible to apply for an ESTA to enter under the VWP.
“If you are affected by these changes and wish to travel to the US, you will need to apply for a non-immigrant visa at a US embassy or consulate,” the advice says.
“Exceptions from these travel restrictions will be made for Australians who have travelled on official Australian Defence Force or Australian government business. No exceptions will be made for government officials or ADF members who are dual citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan.
"The [US] Secretary of Homeland Security may waive these travel restrictions on a case-by-case basis for travellers from the following categories: Australians who have travelled on behalf [of] international organisations, regional organisations or state and territory governments on official duty; Australians who have travelled on behalf of a humanitarian NGO; Australian journalists who have travelled for reporting purposes; Australians who have travelled to Iran for legitimate business-related purposes following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on 14 July 2015; or Australians who have travelled to Iraq for legitimate business-related purposes.”
“Those travellers who are potentially eligible for waivers do not need to apply separately for this – an application will be automatically generated by the ESTA questionnaire.”
Iranian-born Labor senator Sam Dastyari said all but a handful of Australians born in the affected countries would not have gone through the lengthy and expensive process of renouncing their dual citizenship.
He had done so – a requirement to stand for parliament – and it had been A$20,000 in legal costs. Even so, he said he wasn’t sure he would be allowed into the US because his passport said he was born in Iran.
He said he had been told major airlines in Australia were warning people born in the named countries against buying tickets to the US because they could not confirm they would be allowed in.
A spokesperson for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the Foreign Affairs department had not received any requests for consular assistance from Australians unable to board transport to the US.
“We are aware that visa issuance to nationals of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen has been suspended … The Australian embassy in Washington is engaging with US officials on the potential implications of the suspension for Australian travellers, including dual nationals.”
*Reported suicide attempt on Nauru *
SBS has reported that a teenage Iranian national on Nauru was in jail after an attempt to hang himself. SBS said there was widespread distress on Nauru after the Trump presidential order. A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton confirmed the government was aware of the incident but said it was a matter for the Nauru government.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra