Why are the U.S and Australia pursuing a deal on refugee swap?

Australia and President Obama’s administration are nearing a deal on extra-territorial refugee centers. There’s been increasing speculation about a deal being forged since September this year when the Aussie Prime Minister said that his country would resettle migrants from the U.S in exchange for the U.S accommodating refugees stationed on the Pacific Islands in Australia.

Australia will reportedly resettle U.S migrants stationed at detention facilities in Costa Rica.

Today, Australia is in the custody of over 1800 refugees who are seeking asylum in its territory. These are individuals who have fled conflict in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ira, Iraq and Sri Lanka. There has been a lot of controversy about how the refugees stationed on these islands have been treated by authorities. To start with, Australia has not granted them asylum, as a result of its stiff border policy that prevents asylum seekers from settling in the country. Australian leaders have engaged in negotiations with various nations in an attempt to move the refugees.

The deal with the United States will make it possible for Australia to close its refugee camps, which have been there for over two decades. In turn, the United States will be able to shut its camps in Costa Rica that are packed with refugees running from Central American violence (all of them will now be settled in Australia). There has been no comment from the Obama administration regarding how these negotiations are going, as well as the proposed policies to address refugees. The situation gets even trickier considered that the Trump administration will be in place January next year. Mr. Trump, on the campaign trail, vowed to implement strict vetting procedures for refugees before they are allowed into the United States. This is probably why both Australia and the United States are rushing this deal.

Australia says that the goal is to have its asylum seekers settled in a safe country. As long as that is possible, the deal can go right ahead. That’s according to Kon Karapanagiotidis, an executive at the Australian resource center for asylum seekers. Mr. Kon emphasizes that the important thing is to have the deal sealed quickly and an urgent manner given the physical and mental health of most of the refugees.

It’ll be interesting to see whether the two countries will manage to arrive at a conclusion and seal the deal before Mr. Obama says goodbye to the Whitehouse in the next two months.

Inside Europe’s refugee quagmire

Unless you have been living under a rock for a very long time, then you know that Europe is undergoing a refugee crisis of historic proportions. Since the beginning of 2015, thousands of migrants have been trying to flock to the European Union mostly through the Mediterranean Sea, or via Southeastern Europe. The majority of these asylum seekers and refugees originate from Africa, South and West Asia. The UNHCR says that the top 3 nationalities for refugees who streamed in through the Mediterranean Sea are Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis.

Tragedy at Sea

In 2013, a boat carrying hundreds of asylum seekers from Libya headed to Italy sank, killing 368 people. As a result, Italy launched a massive search and rescue operation codenamed Mare Nostrum. But the situation wasn’t even close to getting better. Within the first four months of 2015, the numbers of migrants perishing at sea was at record high. For instance, in the first 3 months of 2015, at least 479 refugees drowned. The situation became even direr in April the same year when 1308 refugees either drowned or disappeared, sparking a worldwide outcry. European leaders then held emergency meetings in the same month and decided to triple funding for their Mediterranean rescue operations.

Below is the nature of Europe’s refugee problem, based on a report published recently by the EU.

  • The majority of people flocking into Europe through the Mediterranean Sea are fleeing from conflict, war, and persecution to their countries of origin. There are also increasing numbers of displaced individuals fleeing from deteriorating conditions in various refugee-hosting nations. European Union states have a responsibility to protect these refugees, as well as rescue those who face danger at sea.
  • There have been an increasing number of deaths at sea, as refugees try to cross the Mediterranean Sea by all means possible. Currently, European search and rescue operations have intensified, potentially saving the lives of hundreds of migrants stuck at sea.
  • More migrants and refugees are taking the Eastern Mediterranean route, from Turkey to Greece. Over 85 percent of refugee arrivals in Greece are people fleeing from war in Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan. Once in Greece, these migrants travel across the Balkans to northern and western Europe. Based on available statistics, Italy is the number one destination for refugees from Eritrea, Somalia and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Due to increased arrivals, reception capacity and other conditions in European host countries have deteriorated. While Italy has improved reception capacity, there are clear systemic gaps in Greece. This negatively impacts refugees, especially those with special needs. It also elevates their risks of being exploited. The European Union has reiterated that this is an emergency situation that requires steadfast intervention and support.
Europe’s Refugee Problem

EU in the context of the Globe

Based on the UNHCR, there were over 59.6 million refugees worldwide by the end of 2014. The number increased to over 64 million at the end of 2015, and the situation doesn’t even look like it’s getting better. Compared to the rest of the world, European Union countries have hosted a significantly small number of refugees. From a global standpoint, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Ethiopia, Kenya and Jordan still host the highest numbers of refugees. In Lebanon, the refugee burden is so intense that 1 out of every 4 people is an asylum seeker.