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While the political drama between Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and US President Donald Trump dominated the headlines both in Australia and the United States, the 1250 refugees at the centre of the “dumb deal” continue to languish in the offshore detention centres on Manus and Nauru.

In the United States, the incident is seen in the context of fractured international relations between the United States and the rest of the world in the Trump era, while in Australia, coverage is divided over whether Turnbull has won or lost by standing up to Trump. Very little focus has been on why the deal had to be made for these 1250 asylum seekers in the first place.

Australian government policy demands that those who are held in these offshore detention centres can’t be settled in Australia, meaning unless a country is found to be a new home for those determined to be refugees, they will remain in limbo in offshore detention on Manus and Nauru if Trump kills the deal.

This is what we know has happened to some of the people who might be affected if the deal does not go ahead.

Doctors for Refugees has been attempting to get the Australian government to fly a Kuwaiti refugee close to giving birth in Nauru to Australia because, as Crikey‘s Guy Rundle describes today, she has been diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. There was much too-ing and fro-ing about what would happen to the woman, with the Australian government eventually agreeing to fly her to Brisbane for treatment. But then the Nauru government put out a release saying that the woman would continue to be cared for on Nauru, saying that those making the request to move her were “not on Nauru and not aware of the facts”. Then, later last night, Nauru then confirmed that the Australian government had requested to fly the woman to Brisbane today.

Amnesty International reported this morning that Loghman Sawari, an Iranian refugee who fled Papua New Guinea to Fiji in late January, was arrested by Fijian police overnight and now fears persecution if he is returned to Papua New Guinea. Loghman has been in immigration detention since he was 17 in 2013, and opted to fly to Fiji under a false name after struggling with mental health issues and being beaten on the streets while in PNG. 

Iranian journalist and refugee on Manus Behrouz Boochani warned on his Facebook page in late January that the political game the government was playing over the deal would come undone and hurt those it was meant to help.

“The Australian government continues to play multiple political games with refugees that have caused suffering for our souls and minds again and again during the past four years; and entertained the media with such endless games. It is like a form of Sadism,” he said.

When news of the call broke yesterday, Boochani posted that he wasn’t surprised the deal was on the rocks because it would hurt Trump politically for the deal to go ahead.

The language Trump is using to describe the refugees as “illegal immigrants” from “prison” — describing their numbers as much larger than they actually are, and suggesting they might be the next Boston bombers — sounds designed to provide cover for Trump to scuttle the deal and maintain his tough-on-borders approach.

The Australian government, which has long insisted that offshore detention is not offshore detention, now finds the US President calling the detention centres “prisons”.

The politicians who came to power demonising asylum seekers now find their own tactics being used against them. Schadenfreude is tempting, but it’s the refugees, not the politicians, who will suffer if the deal fails.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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