On refugees, Trump and Turnbull compete in a race to the bottom | Oliver Laughland
The fallout between President Donald Trump and the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, on the resettlement of refugees is not only an extraordinary break from diplomatic norms. It is a collective race to the bottom between two of the world's wealthiest nations on failing to offer sanctuary to the world's most vulnerable people.
The US president rode a wave of racially charged anger and anti-migrant rhetoric throughout his campaign and formalised it last week with executive orders imposing a travel ban targeted at seven Muslim-majority countries, the suspension of the US refugee resettlement program, and a directive to start work on a 1,200-mile wall across the southern border.
Meanwhile, the Coalition government in Australia has already implemented a hardline crackdown – after years of bipartisan support for tough measures on immigration – against asylum seekers who make the precarious maritime crossing from Indonesia.
Australia has had its own version of a border wall since 2013: its name is Operation Sovereign Borders. That military-led effort has seen boats carrying migrants turned back to Indonesian shores and the mandatory offshore detention and resettlement of asylum seekers who have made it to Australian territory.
These 1,25o men, women and children, who languish on the tiny island state of Nauru and in Papua New Guinea are the end result of that aggressive policy, stuck in limbo while Australia has struggled for years to find a viable resettlement plan.
President Trump now brands these people "illegal immigrants" and the "next Boston bombers". The aspersions are breathtaking and at odds with reality. Not only would the roughly 1,250 individuals that could be resettled in America be vetted refugees, they come from a host of religious groupings and countries, including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, as well as Iran, Iraq, Syria and Somalia.
But Trump's blunt assessment, which may or may nor result in the cancellation of the deal altogether, is partly how Australia sees these refugees as well. By adamantly refusing to resettle them in Australia and initially branding them "illegal maritime arrivals", the Australian government too has otherized and marginalized them.
They represent a tiny fraction of the world's refugee crisis, which has left more than 65 million people forcibly displaced across the world. They once again find themselves tossed around at the behest of powerful leaders seeking cheap political victories while lacking the moral fortitude to act in the interests of the most vulnerable.
Before moving to America, I spent a year and a half investigating the conditions of immigration detention in offshore sites and was often confronted by the deliberate strategy of harshness.
I wrote about the Iranian man Reza Berati, murdered by private security contractors at the offshore detention centre on Manus Island; about unaccompanied minors kept in solitary confinement for months as they self-harmed, of other children sexually assaulted by detention centre staff on Nauru, and those who died after receiving lacklustre medical attention. This was coupled with the creeping discrimination imposed by a "code of conduct" that asylum seekers on the Australian mainland were forced to sign.
Covering the Trump campaign trail, I was reminded of this discriminatory rhetoric and seeming affection for institutionalised cruelty. Trump's vows to build a wall and expedite deportations sounded all too familiar.
Once in power, he wasted no time issuing executive orders imposing mandatory detention of those apprehended while crossing the southern border, rapidly expanding the private detention network and drastically lowering America's refugee intake.
As Scott Morrison, the former Australian immigration minister, said earlier in the week about Trump's border plans: "Really, the rest of the world is catching up to Australia."