A group of 25 refugees left [Guardian report] a detention center on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea [government website] on Tuesday to travel to the US for resettlement, becoming the first of several hundred such refugees who will make the journey as part of an agreement between former US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull [JURIST report].
A second group is expected to leave a detention center on the island nation of Nauru [government website] later this week, with the total number of 54 refugees who have been approved for entry in the US, having successfully completed an “extreme vetting process” mandated [executive order] by the Trump administration.
The agreement by then-president Barack Obama to accept the refugees, which was followed months later by Turnbull’s agreement to accept refugee’s from an American detention center in Costa Rica, has resulted in tension between Turnbull and President Donald Trump. According to transcripts released [Business Insider report] last month of a phone call between the two leaders that took place in January, Trump called the agreement the “worst deal ever,” and repeatedly insisted that the number of refugees involved was between 2,000 and 5,000. During the call, Turnbull refuted that contention, saying the agreement was for 1,250 individuals, who would be subject to the US vetting process before immigrating.
Humanitarian groups, including the Human Rights Law Centre, have estimated the total number of refugees that remain in the two island detention centers to be around 2,000. Of those, it remains uncertain how many will be relocating to the US, and how many would resettle in other countries, including Australia.
Daniel Webb, Director of Legal Advocacy at the HRLC, said [press release] “today was a good day” for the refugees who were finally able to travel to the US, but that challenges still exist for those whose futures were still uncertain.
For the first time in a long time these men can finally feel hopeful, optimistic and free. But the tragic reality is that hope for a handful doesn’t end the suffering of the 2000 innocent people left behind. After four years of fear, violence and limbo, safety for a handful isn’t good enough. Every single one of these innocent people has had four years of their life ripped away from them. Every single one of them deserves a future. [The Australian] government must not abandon one single life in limbo.
Beverly Thacker, an official with the US Embassy in Papua New Guinea [government website], declined to confirm how many refugees would be traveling to the US. “Other refugee cases are under review,” Thacker said recently. “They all have different time frames and we will expect that others will be advanced in the coming months.”