After years of detention at one of two remote Australia-run Pacific centers, a group of refugees are heading to the United States for permanent resettlement Tuesday.
At least 22 asylum-seekers who have been held at the Manus camp in northern Papua New Guinea will board a plane in the capital of Port Moresby and fly to Manila, then head to an undisclosed location in the U.S.
Beverly Thacker, the public affairs officer in the U.S. embassy in Port Morseby, says a second group of about 30 refugees will leave a second detention center on Nauru for resettlement in the U.S. in the coming days.
The refugees are the first of 1,250 asylum seekers that are being resettled in the United States under a deal struck between Canberra and Washington in the final weeks of President Barack Obama's administration. Obama's successor, Donald Trump, attacked the agreement during a contentious phone call with Turnbull shortly after taking office, and called it "a dumb deal" in an angry tweet posted in February, before eventually agreeing to honor it.
More than 1,200 asylum seekers from Africa, Asia and the Middle East are being held in Nauru and Papua New Guinea's northern island of Manus, as part of Canberra's policy of intercepting people attempting to sail to Australia and seek asylum. Many of them are barred from accepting citizenship in Australia, even if they are granted refugee status.
Human rights groups have denounced Australia over its treatment of the asylum seekers. Amnesty International issued a report last October alleging that many of the 400 men, women and children being held on Nauru have been subjected to physical and mental abuse and neglect, and have attempted various forms of self-harm, including attempted suicides, and were falling into deep despair over their long detention and uncertain fate.
Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled last year that the detention center on Manus was unconstitutional, as it violated the detainees’ constitutional right of personal liberty.
Australia is set to close the center next month.