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London: The former US Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, has issued an extraordinary statement attacking President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and a passionate defence of refugees, warning that the “hottest places in hell” are reserved for those who “maintain neutrality” in times of “great moral crisis.”
Mr Bleich is a close friend of former President Barack Obama who appointed him US Ambassador to Australia between 2009 and 2013.
Mr Bleich, now a chair of the J. William Fulbright Board, said he had never before issued a statement condemning the actions of the United States government.
But he said as an “American, patriot and human being” he had no choice but to speak out and said: “None of us should be silent.”
“President Trump’s executive order banning all refugees from entering the United States and seeking asylum is illegal and cruel, and it violates the most basic tenets of our nation,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
“This land was settled by people seeking freedom from religious persecution. Barring access to all asylum seekers not only breaks the law, it breaks faith with who we are as a people.”
“I take no pleasure in condemning our nation’s actions. But the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality,” he said.
Mr Bleich’s position contrasts strongly with that of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who on Monday declined to criticise President Trump’s move saying it wasn’t his business.
“It is not my job, as Prime Minister of Australia, to run a commentary on the domestic policies of other countries,” the prime minister told reporters.
“I am not about to run a commentary on other countries’ practices,” he added.
Mr Turnbull said the President had agreed to honour a refugee-swap deal brokered with former President Barack Obama. Under the deal the US will accept refugees who have been languishing for years on Australia’s offshore detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, also writing on Facebook, attacked Mr Turnbull for choosing to stay silent.
“There are some issues where silence will be interpreted as agreement,” the Labor leader said.
“For that reason, I need to say Mr Trump’s ban on refugees based upon their religion or country is appalling and ought to be ended as soon as possible.”
“I urge Malcolm Turnbull to reconsider what our nation’s position ought to be and rethink what he should be saying on our behalf.”
“It’s time for leadership,” Mr Shorten said.
The former ambassador said the United States had been at the forefront of crafting international law and working with the rest of the world keep refugees safe.
“Many of us are here in the United States today because other Americans, long before us, answered identical prayers from our own families.”
“Since 1980, the U.S. has taken in over 2.5 million people. Not one of them has been responsible for an act of domestic terror,” he said.
“Many of our greatest citizens were themselves once refugees or were the children of refugees. Two of our Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, were refugees. Nobel laureates like Albert Einstein, great business leaders like Andy Grove who founded Intel, musicians such as Wyclef Jean, Gloria Estefan, and Bob Marley, writers like Isabel Allende, and business leaders like George Soros were all refugees. Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian political migrant.
President Trump’s executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries including Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Sudan as well as all refugees from entering the United States sparked chaos at American airports and major demonstrations.
The President defended the chaos, writing on Twitter that the disruptions were caused not by his policy but by a computer outage affecting US carrier Delta Airlines.
Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning. Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage,…..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 30, 2017
He defended the sudden start time for his executive order saying granting any preparation time would have allowed “bad dudes” to slip into the country.
If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the “bad” would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad “dudes” out there!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 30, 2017
Mr Trump has previously insisted his ban is not a “Muslim Ban” as it is commonly referred to in the media. But his ally Rudy Giuliani told Fox News on the weekend that Mr Trump phoned him asking him how to legally enact a “Muslim Ban.”