A first group of refugees from Australian-run Pacific camps are being flown to the United States from Papua New Guinea. For years, rights groups have condemned Canberra’s detention camp practices.
The US embassy in Port Moresby said 24 asylum seekers held on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island would fly to Manila Tuesday and then to an undisclosed American location.
The first group included men from Bangladesh and Sudan as well as Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.
A second group of 30 refugees held on the Pacific island nation of Nauru would head to the US "in the coming days," said US public affairs officer Beverly Thacker.
Reluctant Trump acknowledgement
Since 2014, Canberra has barred boat refugees and sent those who try to reach the continent to camps it runs on islands in the two neighboring Pacific nations.
Since taking office in January, US President Donald Trump has reluctantly accepted Australia's prior deal with his predecessor Barack Obama that Washington offer residency to up to 1,250 refugees.
In return, Australia agreed to accept several dozen resettled Central American refugees. They are expected to arrive in Australia within weeks.
Last October, Papua New Guinea's supreme court ruled that the Manus Island camp was illegal.
Daniel Webb, the legal advocacy director at the Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre, said Tuesday's departure was good "for a handful of people," but masked the suffering of 2,000 "innocent people" left behind.
"Anyone who can't go to America must immediately be brought to safety in Australia," said Webb who's reported often on conditions on Manus Island.
Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian writer held on Manus for the last four years, said those who were able to leave were happy.
"But also there was sadness. They know the people who were in this prison with them are still here," Boochani said.
Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said emotions were mixed and criticized the lack on clarity on when further groups would be allowed to leave.
ipj/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)