A phone conversation between President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has put into question the U.S.-Australia Refugee resettlement deal.
The Washington Post reported that the call was cut short, and Trump called it the “worst call” among others with world leaders that day.
President Trump later tweeted that he would study the dumb deal.
The deal struck with the Obama administration promises a resettlement of 1,250 asylum seekers to Australia into U.S.
The deal has become controversial already since Australia refused to take in the refugees – mainly men from Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq – and are instead held in the detention centers of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Mr. Turnbull was seeking reassurance on the U.S. commitment after an executive order was signed last Friday that barred refugees from seven Muslim countries entering the U.S.
The call took place on Saturday, the same day Trump called four other world leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Washington Post quoted senior U.S. official as saying the call ended abruptly after 25 minutes; it should have last an hour.
The official U.S. version of the call was brief and said that both the leaders had “emphasized the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship.”
Turnbull had confirmed on Monday that he had spoken to Mr. Trump, and the refugee deal would be upheld.
Press Secretary, Sean Spicer has also maintained since then that Mr. Trump intends to uphold the deal, but the tweet from Trump on Wednesday – that came after the publication of the story – has put serious doubts on the future of the deal.
Mr. Turnbull later expressed his disappointment about the details of call – which he had described as “frank and forthright” – getting public.
While talking to Sydney radio station, he denied reports claiming the call was hung up.
What’s the deal?
The announcement from Australia came in November 2016 that the U.S. had agreed in a one-off deal to resettle refugees currently settlement in Nauru and Manus Islands in Papua New Guinea.
Mr. Turbull had said that the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, would oversee the deal and “most vulnerable” would be prioritized.
The number of refugees to be taken in was not confirmed at that time. Mike Pezzullo, Australian Immigration Department Secretary, clarified later that people who are eligible could express interest, and it was up to the U.S. to decide how many people it wanted to take.
The Australian government statistics showed a total of 1,254 people in two camps as of November 30, 2016.
Australia has a tough deterrent policy and doesn’t accept refugees who arrive by boat. It has struck resettlement deal with Papua New Guinea and Cambodia, but only a handful of refugees have been resettled. Critics argue that the two nations are completely ill-equipped to resettle refugees.
Australia has faced international criticism for its offshore detention policy and wants to end the camp in Manus Islands. Rights group have roundly condemned the conditions in offshore camps, who say that the policy is punitive.