back to top

The Past Few Days Have Been Hell For The Refugees Detained By Australia

"Everyone feels so hopeless and helpless."

Posted on

The 871 men still detained at an Australian-run offshore detention centre on Manus Island have watched their chances of finding a permanent home rise and fall in line Donald Trump's temper.

Stringer / Reuters

In 48 hours, United States officials have: reportedly said they would accept an Obama-era deal to resettle refugees being held on the tiny island, said they were reconsidering the deal, called the deal "dumb", then ultimately said they would accept the deal anyway – or, at least, that they would agree to put the refugees through an "extreme" vetting process.

For the men being held on Manus, the past few days of angry tweets, robust phone calls, awkward radio interviews, and blustery press conferences have been hell.

"It's obviously adding salt into our wounds because the news is coming from everywhere," Iranian refugee Amir told BuzzFeed News. "Friends and families are all talking about it, so even if I don't want to hear them, it's always around and it's making me insane.

"Everyone feels so hopeless and helpless."

This is will be Amir's fourth year detained on Manus since he sought asylum in Australia in 2013 after fleeing religious persecution for being Christian in Iran.

Under Australia's strict immigration regime, all asylum-seekers who attempt to reach Australia by boat are detained offshore, never to set foot on Australian soil.

Amir is one of the many refugees held in Australian detention with a nationality now banned under Trump's recent immigration suspension.

So the 24-year-old was unsurprised when Trump suggested on Thursday that he was reconsidering the deal for the US to take around 1,250 refugees from Australia.

Trump tweeted that the Obama-era deal was "dumb", and a Washington Post report painted a disastrous picture of negotiations between the US and Australia.

Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!

Within an hour of the tweet being sent, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull took to Sydney radio to declare: “The president assured me that he would continue to honour the agreement we entered into with the Obama administration with respect to refugee resettlement.”

On Friday morning, the Trump administration said the deal would go ahead "out of respect" for Australia.

But Amir now believes it is "highly unlikely" that the US will accept any refugees from Manus Island or Nauru, where there are still 372 people living in a regional processing centre, according to the latest Australian government statistics.

"Trump's message was clear from the first day of his campaign, and I still can't believe how Turnbull can look into people's eyes and give them misleading information," Amir, who fled Iran aged 15, said.

Amir, who sleeps in a crowded tent with 40 other men every night, has also given up all hope of resettlement in Australia.


"Australia keeps saying that they don't want us and trying to get rid of us in whatever ways they can so there is no hope that they would welcome us," he said.

With a background in humanitarian science and literature, Amir hopes to become a human rights lawyer one day, and he'd be happy to be settled in the US.

"For me, it wouldn't be hard to integrate into the US as I always try to fit amongst the local lifestyle of any nation, so I would willingly go there," he said.

"I want to become a person who can learn enough to teach people to care for each other and help the helpless ones."

Gina Rushton is a breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Gina Rushton at

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.