Tonight’s Dateline story “From Manus Island to Missouri” explores the effects of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s refugee swap deal with former US President Barack Obama – a deal labelled “rotten” by current President Donald Trump.
With the Manus Island processing centre shut down and 135 refugees arriving in the US to date, Dateline reporter Dean Cornish looks at the swap deal and what it means for the refugees involved.
He speaks to Abdul-Azzi Tirab in Missouri, who arrived in America with the first group of refugees from Manus Island and Nauru. Tirab fled the bloody conflict in Sudan and before that escaped genocide and war in his native Darfur where hundreds of thousands were killed.
Tirab’s family raised the money to get him out of Sudan but when he was in a boat a hundred miles from Darwin, Australia’s law changed and he ended up spending four years on Manus Island.
“Manus Island … is like hell, you know?”, Tirab says. “We have been beaten, we have been killed, we have been tortured ….and really that is the most bad period, surviving Manus Island.”
But now Tirab is one of the lucky ones. When Dateline met Tirab he’d been in Kansas City for just two months, living in the fourth most dangerous neighbourhood in the US. His one bedroom apartment is being paid for by the US government but soon he will need to pay his own way.
Tirab’s life in the US might be basic – it’s the middle of winter and he doesn’t even own a coat – but compared to what he’s been through, Tirab sees his new home as a safe haven. He has six months to find a job and is taking forklift driving lessons to improve his prospects.
The details of the deal struck between the US and Australian governments has been vague, labelled as a ‘people swap’ where Australia agreed to exchange refugees on Nauru and Manus for 200 Central American refugees. It has caused friction in Australia and particularly in the United States where anti-immigration sentiment is on the rise.
Cornish asks – why Australia has taken Central American refugees and not people who had been waiting years in Australian detention?
Tuesday 20 February at 9.30pm on SBS.