Originally published by The New York Times
They were the asylum seekers Australia rejected, and President Trump resisted: the men stuck on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea because of Australia’s offshore detention policy.
Now 58 of them are on their way to the United States, boarding flights on Tuesday, according to American officials and asylum seekers on Manus.
Forty more are expected to leave soon, along with 130 refugees from another detention center on the island of Nauru. They are all part of an agreement that Mr. Trump called a “dumb deal” forged by President Barack Obama, now accelerating after months of secrecy, delays and conflict on Manus.
In all, hundreds of asylum seekers from Australia’s offshore detention camps are expected to make their way to the United States. In exchange, a similar number of Central American refugees who applied for asylum in the United States will go to Australia — at a time when immigration tensions in Washington are already running fever hot.
Who are the men going to the United States?
A vast majority of the 58 men leaving Papua New Guinea on Tuesday are from three countries: Myanmar, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
They were all vetted extensively by American officials who conducted background checks and interviews, and they range in age and educational background. Many of them learned English while detained on Manus, and they are the third and largest group to have left Manus since Mr. Trump took office.
A few months ago, 54 refugees from Manus were resettled in various parts of the United States.
Why are they going now?
American officials in Australia have been saying for months that they were proceeding cautiously and deliberately, and the plan for the men who left Tuesday has been in the works for months.
Several refugees told me in November that they were told they would be departing in January — not anticipating the battle over immigration that has gripped Washington over the past few weeks.
Some of the men said they were afraid to be quoted talking about the process until they reached their new homes; after years of being stuck in limbo, they said they feared having their dreams of departure denied at the last second.
Many of the asylum seekers still on Manus, however, described what was happening and wished their departing friends the best of luck, sharing photos taken on the plane as they boarded in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.
What happens to the asylum seekers left behind?
There are now just under 800 asylum seekers still on Manus, and an additional 1,200 or so on Nauru. Most of them — all but about 400 — have been vetted and approved as refugees.
But their fate is unknown.
On Manus, the largest group comes from Iran, one of the countries targeted by Mr. Trump’s travel ban, and few of the men still there have much hope of being allowed into the United States, Australia or any other country.
“It’s great feeling when you see the faces of the people who were under torture for years who have gotten freedom,” said Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist and asylum seeker from Iran. “On the other hand, it’s very sad when you see the faces of people who are still living in an uncertain situation and don’t know anything about their future.”