SYDNEY – A group comprising 40 asylum seekers being held at Australia’s detention center on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea left for the United States on Tuesday under a controversial bilateral agreement.
Activist Ian Rintoul, of the Refugee Action Coalition in Sydney, told EFE that 40 of them had left Tuesday morning to Manila, in the Philippines, from where some would go to New York and the others to Los Angeles, adding that another 18 are due to leave Papua in February.
“For those going it’s a blessing,” Rintoul said. “It’s been four and a half years of hell on Manus Island. (The refugees are) unlawfully held in conditions the UNHCR has described as appalling.”
However, the future of more than 600 refugees still held in the detention facility on Manus Island remains uncertain, Rintoul said, adding that “for the 40 (heading to the US) their hearts are with the people left behind.”
The activist also said that the refugees released on Tuesday include no one from Sudan, Iran or Somalia, as those three countries are on US President Donald Trump’s list of eight Muslim-majority nations whose citizens are banned from entering the US.
A media representative in the office of Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton told EFE on Tuesday that the Ministry has no comment on the 40 refugees going to the US, and said inquiries on the matter should be referred to US authorities.
A first contingent of 54 refugees held in Nauru and Manus was accepted by the US last year, while this month some 30 Salvadorans arrived in Australia under the bilateral agreement signed in 2016.
An agreement signed between Australia and the administration of then-US President Barack Obama, which Trump described as stupid, has the provision for the US to host some 1,250 migrants from Manus and Nauru, while Australia committed to take in some 30 refugees from Central American countries in exchange.
The Manus detention facility, which was closed on Oct. 31 and its occupants transferred to transit facilities, and another facility in Nauru, in the Pacific, opened after Australia reactivated its controversial policy of processing asylum applications in third countries in 2012.
Many of the asylum seekers at Manus and Nauru have fled conflicts in Afghanistan, Darfur, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria; while others have escaped discrimination such as the Muslim-minority Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.