SYDNEY – Refugee advocates said a group of 40 refugees denied entry to Australia left Tuesday from an immigration camp on Papua New Guinea bound for resettlement in the United States.
Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said the men left Manus Island on planes to Los Angeles and New York, and would likely be distributed to a number of U.S. cities.
Australia's government did not immediately confirm the report.
U.S. President Donald Trump has reluctantly agreed to honor a deal struck by his predecessor, Barack Obama, to resettle up to 1,250 refugees. But Trump has described the deal as "dumb" and promised the refugees will be subject to "extreme vetting."
Australia has a policy of not allowing any refugees who try to arrive by boat to settle in the country. It pays neighboring Papua New Guinea and the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru to hold more than 2,000 asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East and Asia who have attempted to reach Australian shores.
Rintoul said a total of 67 refugees have now left Manus Island for the U.S. under the deal. He said another 148 from both Manus Island and Nauru have been approved by the U.S. and would likely leave within weeks.
He said the men who were leaving were from countries that included Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said they'd endured rough times in immigration camps and were happy to be going but were also upset the others were left behind.
"It's always bittersweet," Rintoul said.