The first group of refugees to be resettled under the Australia-United States resettlement deal flew out of Port Moresby on Tuesday morning.
The group of 25 men from the Manus Island detention centre will be joined within days by a second group of refugees currently housed on Nauru.
Twenty-five asylum-seekers held on Manus Island off mainland Papua New Guinea (PNG) flew to Manila on their way to an undisclosed US location, the US embassy in PNG’s Port Moresby told AFP news agency on Tuesday.
“They’re the first group that have been approved, that have gone through the extreme vetting process and have met all the requirements for resettlement,” Beverly Thacker, the embassy’s public affairs officer, said.
About another 30 refugees held on Nauru in the Pacific will head to the US “in the coming days”, she added.
The Australian government maintains that the refugees will never be eligible to be resettled in Australia.
The offshore prison camps have attracted widespread criticism from the United Nations and rights groups because their harsh conditions and allegations of systemic abuse.
Last year, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed to a deal with then-US President Barack Obama to resettled up to 1,250 refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.
There was not, however, any obligation for the US to take a specific number of refugees.
Nearly 800 men are held on Manus, and 371 men, women and children are detained on Nauru, according to Australian immigration data as of July 31.
Behrouz Boochani, a journalist and Iranian refugee who has been held on Manus Island since 2013, said that while “it’s great to finally see” that some refugees will be resettled, “there are still 800 of us left here in this prison camp”.
Kon Karapanagiotidis, the chief executive of the Melbourne-based Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said the news of the departures is “so bittersweet”.
He said that there is still a long way to go for a resolution and that the biggest concerns are “what the future looks like for the men who remain on Manus” and “what will happen to those who are found to be refugees and those who are not”.