Thursday, August 03, 2017


The Washington Post has obtained transcripts of telephone calls President Trump had in January with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. The conversation with Turnbull became unpleasant as the two men discussed an Obama-era agreement under which the United States was expected to take 1250 refugees being held by Australia on the islands of Nauru and Manus. In return, Australia agreed to take some Central American refugees off America's hands.

Jonathan Chait explains the impasse:
Australia has a policy of refusing to accept refugees who arrive by boat. The reason, as Turnbull patiently attempts to explain several times, is that it believes giving refuge to people who arrive by boat would encourage smuggling and create unsafe passage with a high risk of deaths at sea. But it had a large number of refugees who had arrived by sea, living in difficult conditions, whom Australia would not resettle (for fear of encouraging more boat trafficking) but whom it did not want to deport, either. The United States government agreed under President Obama to vet 1,250 of these refugees and accept as many of them as it deemed safe.

In the transcript, Trump is unable to absorb any of these facts.... He is unable to absorb Turnbull’s explanation that they are economic refugees, not from conflict zones, and that the United States has the ability to turn away any of them it deems dangerous.
So, to review: these are economic refugees who are being held because Australia, as a matter of principle, won't allow refugees who arrive by boat into the country. Prime Minister Turnbull makes that clear:
TURNBULL: It is not because they are bad people. It is because in order to stop people smugglers, we had to deprive them of the product. So we said if you try to come to Australia by boat, even if we think you are the best person in the world, even if you are a Noble [sic] Prize winning genius, we will not let you in.
Now I'd like to point you to one exchange in particular from the transcript:
TURNBULL: We will take anyone that you want us to take. The only people that we do not take are people who come by boat. So we would rather take a not very attractive guy that help you out then to take a Noble [sic] Peace Prize winner that comes by boat. That is the point.

TRUMP: What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats? No, I know, they come from certain regions. I get it.

TURNBULL: No, let me explain why. The problem with the boats it that you are basically outsourcing your immigration program to people smugglers and also you get thousands of people drowning at sea.
Trump asks, "What is the thing with boats?" He clearly doesn't believe Australia really has a "thing with boats."

Do you think Donald Trump knows that Australia is an island nation? Do you think he knows that Australia has no land borders with any other country and is, y'know, surrounded by water, which probably explains why it's sensitive about refugees arriving by boat?

I don't think he knows that. I'd love to find out for sure.

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